• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Reason’s Bunker: The One-Sidedness of the Modern Mind

by  
Filed under Man

Bunker

St. Justin Martyr, a second century philosopher and Christian apologist, once reflected that Platonic philosophy added “wings” to his mind.1 He was referring to the way that Plato’s theory of ideas freed his reason, allowing his thoughts to rest not just upon the sensible things of this earth, but rather permitting him to contemplate the unseen yet essential realities that undergird and give meaning to all of existence.

Justin is a witness to the way that truth can lift our minds and let us soar to the heights of wisdom. However, according to Pope Benedict XVI, the prevailing approach to truth today resembles a windowless bunker more than it does the freedom of a bird soaring in open skies.2

We are an intellectually one-sided society. While we pride ourselves (and rightly so) on the great achievements we have made in the fields of science, especially the trifecta of biology, physics, and chemistry, we have forgotten what St. Justin Martyr and other great thinkers like St. Augustine knew so well and found so life-giving: truth is much broader, deeper, higher, and richer than mere scientific fact.

Today we are guilty of thinking that the highest form of truth is data. This mentality is evident in our informal conversations and can be especially found in the works of the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins, who, for example, reduces the intellectually fruitful idea of human love to a chemically-induced brain state.3

We are more dedicated to dividing things into their smallest quantifiable units than with learning what they mean as a whole.

This is the bunker into which we have put ourselves, a myopic view of human reason that considers scientific certainty and practicality alone to be worthwhile and valid, while all other modes of thought, like philosophy and theology, are considered to be ambiguous and inconclusive enough that it is better not to waste time with them anyway.

Our understanding of reason’s scope is severely limited. We have a concrete roof over our heads that prevents our minds from rising to contemplation of God, and at the same time the walls of our bunker shield us from the deeper questions of meaning that constantly assault our consciousnesses, justly demanding our attention. But how did we get into this intellectually intolerant, close-minded bunker mentality? And, more importantly, how do we get out?

How We Got into the Bunker

Probably one of the single most significant intellectual events of human history was the 18th century Enlightenment, which brought about a number of exciting advances in the technological fields and opened up broad new avenues of scientific exploration. But the Enlightenment was also the point at which human thought began taking decisive steps down the stairway which leads to the bunker of reason that we live in today.

Especially under the influence of Rene Descartes, thinkers like David Hume and, later, Auguste Comte, declared the age of “speculative thought” (metaphysics and theology) at an end; they considered themselves the harbingers of a new age of the primacy of science. Science, they said, was at last gaining the competency to adjudicate moral matters and provide direction for man’s true purpose: the mastery of nature and of himself. Each of these three thinkers represents a step further down into the bunker of restrictive reason in which we live today.

Descartes’ rationalism is a constitutive piece of Enlightenment thought and is one of the first steps into today’s bunker of reason. He advocated the “practical philosophy” of math and science with the aim of making men “lords and masters of nature”.4 Descartes prized the role of human thought more in its capacity for making than for meaning.

Then, in a philosophical move sometimes known as “Hume’s fork”, Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume took human thought on a second step into the bunker of reason when he argued that all the objects of human reason or enquiry can be divided into two kinds, “Relations of Ideas” and “Matters of Fact”. The former category contains the sciences of geometry, algebra, and arithmetic. The latter category contains synthetic propositions based on experiences to which one is accustomed, such as, “The sun will rise tomorrow.”

However, all Matters of Fact are dependent upon relationships between cause and effect, and Hume holds the skeptical position that there is no real logical necessity that certain observed effects will always come from associated causes. Therefore, according to Hume, there is in fact no real way of knowing anything other than the first category of reason, the sciences.5 Hume is one of the founding fathers of empiricism, an approach to human reason that says that truth can only be found when there is empirical (sensible) evidence to apprehend.

Aided by the growing influence of the intellectual trends of the Enlightenment, a third and decisive step into the bunker of reason was taken by the 19th century French thinker, Auguste Comte. Comte proposed what he called “positive philosophy”, an approach to reason which recognizes as truthful only those pieces of knowledge that are positive facts. For Comte, logic is the sole vessel of truth.

Comte claimed that the history of human thought moves through three general states. First, there is the theological state, then the metaphysical, and finally the positive state. It is only in the third state that humans can actually be said to have knowledge and get at the truth.6 Theological and metaphysical ideas belong to an age when humans didn’t know any better and basically made up ideas about the universe since they were without the aid of science.

According to Comte, theology is the innocent but ignorant childhood of the human mind, while metaphysics represents the slightly more serious—though no less empty—youth of human thought. And the positivistic approach to reason is, of course, adulthood, human reason come to full stature. Comte concludes, “All competent thinkers agree with [Francis] Bacon that there can be no real knowledge except that which rests upon observed facts.”7

With this succession of thinkers, human thought has been gradually narrowed down such that it consists only of science and logic when it once was directed to responding to questions of ultimate meaning. We have entered the bunker of empirical fact and slammed the door shut behind us, sealing ourselves off from thoughts of heaven and from any type of rationally inquiry that does not yield factually certain results.

How We Can Get Out of the Bunker

The first step necessary for getting out of the bunker of restrictive reason is to realize how the thinkers who got us in here are wrong.

Therefore, when looking at the conclusions of the rationalists, skeptics, empiricists, and positivists, we should ask: is this really the great achievement of human reason—that it is no longer concerned with anything but dry facts? Can science really answer all of man’s exigent questions? Are all non-scientific questions ultimately meaningless or unanswerable?

In truth, the life of every man and woman is marked by questions and challenges that are deeper and of far greater significance than practical questions of science and math. Questions about the meaning of death, love, and the existence of God are part of the heritage of human thought not because pre-historical humans did not have modern scientific tools but because these questions belong to human nature and thus stretch across the boundaries of time.8

By emphasizing practical thought over reflective thought, Descartes and his successors displaced certain important human questions. For example, the meaning of death used to be an important point of reflection for humans, but today death is often just thought of as a biological fact. Yet, those who are committed to intelligent, contemplative thought about human existence cannot let such a significant reality be swept aside so easily. After all, death is not just a biological phenomenon irrelevant to human meaning but is, in the words of Pope Benedict, a “human phenomenon of all embracing-profundity.”9

Death raises questions of human purpose: Why must we die? Does anything happen after death? How do I interpret the death of a loved one? These questions occupy our thoughts; they define our relationships with others, the scope of our plans, our sense of meaning in life, and thus our very existences. So to offhandedly reject death’s philosophical and theological relevance as we often do today is intellectually reprehensible.

Hume and Comte put all their trust in empirical data and the pure objectivity of the rational subject, but one must have pre-scientific notions of truth before one can trust empirical facts. G.K. Chesterton writes, “Reason is itself a matter of faith.”10 That is, I only trust that empirical facts are true because I believe that I am capable of knowing the truth. This conclusion is not scientific but philosophical. So there is a priority of philosophical—even creedal—truth over empirical fact. The former precedes the latter and cannot be blithely ignored.

Philosophy must ground science and oversee it, or else science becomes detached from questions of meaning and its own purpose. The reflective question, “What is truth?”—and all that comes with answering it—is deeper than the fields of biology, physics, and chemistry, since our work in those scientific fields must be grounded in our understanding of truth and the meaning of our endeavors.

How many of us today spend any amount of time considering the attainability of truth and other questions of meaning? Perhaps we remain in the bunker of safe, certain, scientific reason and neglect such questions simply because they are hard to resolve. Or perhaps it is because modern technological means can provide us with thousands of answers to these questions. And the plurality of available answers is almost overwhelming enough to cause one to believe that there simply are no answers and that he or she must choose a path arbitrarily or ignore questions of meaning entirely. We sometimes think, “If no one can agree on it, there must be no good answer.”

However, when tempted by this intellectual apathy, perhaps we can learn from St. Justin Martyr, who not only found liberation in discovering answers to many of his questions but was pushed to seek for truths even deeper than Platonic philosophy. And he eventually found them.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis shows us how we can begin to follow the path of St. Justin and free our minds from the bunker of restrictive scientific reason. He writes that we must refuse to resign ourselves to the dull, calculative approach to the world that prevails today and must instead “continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything.”11 To be really human is to wonder at the meaning of our lives and the beauty and tragedy that surrounds us. Wonder bursts the prison of calculative reason and sets before us the exhilarating questions of human existence: “Who am I?” “Why do I exist?” “Where am I going?”

This blog post is not the place to offer answers to man’s great questions of meaning, but it is the place for me to urge you not to believe the lie that there are no answers to be found. These questions don’t belong to just a certain body of “intellectuals” but to every man and woman. So let’s allow ourselves to be awash in wonder at everything that is incalculable in human life and reclaim the place of reflective thought. Let us together step out of the bunker of restrictive reason and into the light of day, stretch our wings, wonder, seek, and find.
 
 
(Image credit: Inhabitat.com)

Notes:

  1. St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, ed. Michael Slusser (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 6.
  2. Pope Benedict XVI, “How Do We Find Our Way Into the Wide World?” Address to the German Parliament (Bundestag), 22 September 2011, 8.
  3. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 1st Mariner Books ed. (Boston: Mariner Books, 2008), 215.
  4. Rene Descartes, Selected Philosophical Writings, translated by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 47.
  5. David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding; [with] a Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh; [and] an Abstract of a Treatise of Human Nature, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1993), 15-16.
  6. Auguste Comte, Introduction to Positive Philosophy (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1988), 2.
  7. Ibid., 4.
  8. In fact, the continual relevance of these questions over time stands on its own as a sort of argument for the fact that there is a universal human nature.
  9. Joseph Ratzinger, Daughter Zion: Meditations On the Church's Marian Belief (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1983), 79.
  10. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Reprint ed. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 38.
  11. Pope Francis, Laudato Si, 113.
Martin Dober

Written by

Martin Dober is in his second year of studying theology at St. Mary Seminary, where he is being formed for priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland. He enjoys reading, being outdoors, and journeying in faith with Catholic youth. Above all, he seeks to know and love Jesus Christ better and strives to meet the challenge of daily becoming more like Him.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Lazarus

    A bunker indeed.
    A beautiful piece, thank you.

  • "a myopic view of human reason that considers scientific certainty and practicality alone to be worthwhile and valid, while all other modes of thought, like philosophy and theology, are considered to be ambiguous and inconclusive enough that it is better not to waste time with them anyway."

    First of all science does not provide certainty, science makes inferences from observation and is a methodology for being as accurate as possible. These are always contingent on new information that might contradict it. It is a refined method of empiricism and critical thinking and I believe it is the best way to make inferences.

    I am not really aware of anyone who considers no other avenue to be of value. It is just that because they lack this methodology, essentially a method of verifying and confirming, we can be less certain of our inferences. Other than using careful empirical observation and making inferences through logic and critical thinking, what avenues of knowledge are open to us? speculation? Intuition?

    I think what has happened since the enlightenment is that Science has been so successful in many fields that we wonder why it hasn't confirmed anything like a state of affairs that most religious claim is true. The existence of an afterlife, a realm of angels demons and deities that interact with the cosmos in intelligible purposeful ways.

    Moreover, science has led to overwhelming agreement in many areas. The standard model of physics, evolution, the germ theory of disease. But what have these other methods of knowledge achieved? Have philosophers generally figured out whether substance dualism is correct? Whether there is a god? Have theologians determined whether there is a god, which holy texts were inspired, which are heresies?

    To the contrary, compared to physics, philosophy and theology have branched into more and more subdivisions. Philosophers are still debating whether platonic idealism is true, or Aristotelian hylomprphism, or materialism. That is fine, but if they are going to claim to be avenues of truth, they should be able to figure something out with respect to these big questions.

    Sure, philosophy, art, theology are disciplines, as is history, law and so on. Each has their own standards of proof and their conclusions are as strong or as weak relatively. I love philosophy and metaphysics, but I don't really ever see many conclusions that are as clear as we repeatedly see in science and empirical pursuits.

    • BGA: I am not really aware of anyone who considers no other avenue to be of value.

      I suggest a read of Tom Sorell's Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science (260 'citations'). Richard J. Bernstein also mentions 'scientism' in his Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis (4500 'citations').

      BGA: Moreover, science has led to overwhelming agreement in many areas.

      And how about stuff like this, from über-naturalist Penelope Maddy:

          A deeper difficulty springs from the lesson won through decades of study in the philosophy of science: there is no hard and fast specification of what 'science' must be, no determinate criterion of the form 'x is science iff …'. It follows that there can be no straightforward definition of Second Philosophy along the lines 'trust only the methods of science'. Thus Second Philosophy, as I understand it, isn't a set of beliefs, a set of propositions to be affirmed; it has no theory. Since its contours can't be drawn by outright definition, I resort to the device of introducing a character, a particular sort of idealized inquirer called the Second Philosopher, and proceed by describing her thoughts and practices in a range of contexts; Second Philosophy is then to be understood as the product of her inquiries. (Second Philosophy: A Naturalistic Method, 1)

      ? Or this, from philosopher Ian Hacking:

      An inane subjectivism may say that whether p is a reason for q depends on whether people have got around to reasoning that way or not. I have the subtler worry that whether or not a proposition is as it were up for grabs, as a candidate for being true-or-false, depends on whether we have ways to reason about it. The style of thinking that befits the sentence helps fix its sense and determines the way in which it has a positive direction pointing to truth or to falsehood. If we continue in this vein, we may come to fear that the rationality of a style of reasoning is all too built-in. The proposi?tions on which the reasoning bears mean what they do just because that way of reasoning can assign them a truth value. Is reason, in short, all too self-authenticating? (Language, Truth, and Reason)

      ?

      BGA: To the contrary, compared to physics, philosophy and theology have branched into more and more subdivisions.

      Subdivisions... like WP: Interpretations of quantum mechanics? Here are the ones which made the list:

      4 Summary of interpretations    4.1 Collapse theories        4.1.1 The Copenhagen interpretation        4.1.2 Consciousness causes collapse        4.1.3 Objective collapse theories    4.2 Many worlds theories        4.2.1 Many minds    4.3 Hidden variables        4.3.1 Pilot-wave theories        4.3.2 Time-symmetric theories        4.3.3 Stochastic mechanics        4.3.4 Popper's experiment    4.4 Information-based interpretations        4.4.1 Relational quantum mechanics        4.4.2 Quantum Bayesianism    4.5 Other        4.5.1 Ensemble interpretation        4.5.2 Modal interpretations        4.5.3 Consistent histories

      You could also consult the the table of contents of Luciano L'Abate's 2011 Paradigms in Theory Construction and see that different psychologists can see the same phenomena and come to different conclusions.

      • Yes this is all true. But compared to what? Philosophy? Theology? Art? These disciplines have virtually no agreement. In physics, for example, the atomic theory, gravitational theory, relativity, quantum theory (thought there are different interpretations), laws of thermodynamics, motion, electromagnetism and many, many more large areas of study in which the theory and understanding is virtually unanimous and repeatedly confirmed by empirical observation.

        What do we have with philosophy? Idealists, materialists, substance dualists and more. Philosophers cannot agree on the fundamental make up of the cosmos. Ethics is similarly divided, deontological moralists, value ethicists, utilitarianism and all of the varieties.

        How have theologians fared? There is no agreement on whether there is a god, how many, what its nature is, whether the universe is linear, cyclical. Whether we are born damned, whether we can be saved. What the divine expects of us morally. Do we reincarnate, resurrect, is there a hell, is hell eternal conscious torture or separation from God. Christianity has been divided and polarized on these issues since Paul had to write to his congregations, to the split with the east, Protestantism and the development of literally thousands of sects, each of which is convinced they are applying a reasonable and true interpretation of their holy books or tradition.

        What has theology actually figured out that is true and widely accepted by theologians? What has philosophy?

        • But compared to what? Philosophy? Theology? Art? These disciplines have virtually no agreement.

          I'll tell you why:

              There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

          Evidence, from Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self (8600 'citations'):

          Much contemporary moral philosophy, particularly but not only in the English-speaking world, has given such a narrow focus to morality that some of the crucial connections I want to draw here are incomprehensible in its terms. This moral philosophy has tended to focus on what it is right to do rather than on what it is good to be, on defining the content of obligation rather than the nature of the good life; and it has no conceptual place left for a notion of the good as the object of our love or allegiance or, as Iris Murdoch portrayed it in her work, as the privileged focus of attention or will.[1] This philosophy has accredited a cramped and truncated view of morality in a narrow sense as well as of the whole range of issues involved in the attempt to live the best possible life and this not only among professional philosophers, but with a wider public. (3)

          This connects to another comment of mine on this page; the last paragraph:

          LB: How does this connect to the reason/​emotion thing? Well, can our emotional responses be wrong/​corrupted? If "no", then there is no truth-value to them. If "yes", then there is truth-value, and we can readmit goodness and beauty to the triad of objectivity, along with truth, which is quickly loosing its membership.

          The reason for the pluralism you are well-describing (Brad S. Gregory describes this pluralism and gives plausible reasons for why in The Unintended Reformation) is that we don't think that there is objective truth-value in the domains of the ethical, the moral, and the aesthetic.

    • ClayJames

      Moreover, science has led to overwhelming agreement in many areas. The
      standard model of physics, evolution, the germ theory of disease. But
      what have these other methods of knowledge achieved?

      Other methods of knowledge have achieved science itself. Do you not see that you are cutting the branch that you stand on by putting science on a pedestal while at the same time lowering the importance of other methods of truth that science depends on? A lot of the things that you mention that make science so great, from its methology to its consistency, are based on non-scientific, philosophical truths.

      Also, the only reason one would wonder why science has nothing to say about the afterlife, angels or demons is if one lacks the understanding of what science actually says. This is nothing new, sometimes the biggest proponents of science know the least about science itself.

      • David Nickol

        All of the things that you mention that make science so great, from its
        methology to its methodology to its consistency, are all based on
        non-scientific, philosophical truths.

        I find this view annoying and false. It may be true that some "philosophical" assumptions are necessary to carry out scientific endeavors. But I'll go out on a limb here and say they may be stated rather simply and plainly, and a great deal in Philosophy-with-a-capital-P (what one studies as a philosophy major) either has nothing to do with science or undercuts it. So a certain set of viewpoints that might be described as "a metaphysic" and/or an epistemology may logically precede science, but metaphysics and epistemology themselves, as broad fields with all kinds of diverse and conflicting views, do not.

        So philosophy is not superior to science, even though to conceptualize an approach to science may require some thoughts and assumptions that can be classified as philosophical.

        • ClayJames

          Philosphical assumptions are indispensable to the application of science and invalidating them invalidates the entire scientific endevour. Simply casting them off as statements that can be stated simply (or that do not need to be studied as a philosphy major, which is not even the case) is an unsophisticated way to diminish their importance and something that can also be done with any scientific conclusion. Just because we can easily state the Big Bang simply and plainly in less than 10 words, does not diminish from its importance.

          So a certain set of viewpoints that might be described as "a metaphysic" and/or an epistemology may logically precede science, but metaphysics and epistemology themselves, as broad fields with all kinds of diverse and conflicting views, do not.

          Actually that is exactly what it means. How can some metaphysical and epistemological truths precede science but metaphysics and epistemology not precede it?

          Unless you define superiority in some other way, Y cannot be superior to X if Y is contingent on X.

          • David Nickol

            How can some metaphysical and epistemological truths precede science but metaphysics and epistemology not precede it?

            It is not my intention to scoff at philosophy, but neither metaphysics nor epistemology is a body of knowledge that continues to build on itself. Very crudely speaking, it makes sense to say, "Science tells us such and such." It does not make sense to say, "Metaphysics tells us such and such." When you study physics, chemistry, or biology, you study the current bodies of knowledge in those fields. The same is not true of metaphysics. For every significant conjecture in metaphysics, there is at least one conjecture that is incompatible with it. So metaphysics as a whole has no conclusions. So you can't claim metaphysics itself as logically anterior to science. Nor, actually, can you prove that the metaphysical assumptions particular scientists or philosophers of science may consciously or unconsciously hold are true.

          • It is not my intention to scoff at philosophy, but neither metaphysics nor epistemology is a body of knowledge that continues to build on itself.

            Have you read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions?

          • David Nickol

            I have spent a small but not insignificant amount of time on the philosophy of science, and I can't say for sure whether I have read the book from beginning to end, but I can claim a certain level of familiarity with the book and with Thomas Kuhn.

          • Are you aware that he objected to the "accumulating knowledge" thesis? One can also see such a rejection in Kenneth Gergen's Toward Transformation in Social Knowledge, this time aimed at 'knowledge' about human behavior.

          • ClayJames

            All that you are saying is that science is more methodological than epistemology and metaphysics. It is also true that one cannot prove metaphysical assumptions the way one can can confirm a scientific hypothesis. However, it does not follow from this that science does not presupose metaphysical and epistemological truths especially because this methological advantage that you claim sience has is a result of philosphical assumptions.

            You make it sound like science´s methology is valid in and of itself and is not contingent on philosophical assumptions.
            It is also not true that metaphysics and epistemology do not build on themselves. There is less consensus, specifically because there is less methodology, but lack of consensus says nothing about what is true or not.

            Even if metaphysics, as a whole, has no conclusions, science does make several metaphysical assumptions and in this way, science is contingent on these truths. You obviously don´t believe this do you? I don´t see how you can believe that science is contingent on these assumptions, exalt the truth-finding benefits of science and at the same time, not even care if these assumptions are true or not.

          • David Nickol

            Even if metaphysics, as a whole, has no conclusions, science does make several metaphysical assumptions and in this way, science is contingent on these truths. You obviously don´t believe this do you?

            What I believe is that there is almost nothing a human being can do that does not require some assumptions that cannot be proven to be true. You can call these assumptions metaphysical if you wish, but this does not validate the entire field of metaphysics, and it certainly doesn't make science "contingent" on metaphysics in any sense that makes metaphysics superior to science.

            Metaphysics as a field is a collection of writings of people who disagree with one another. Consequently, it makes no sense to me to say that science is "contingent" on metaphysics. It may require assumptions that you identify as metaphysical in nature, but within the field of metaphysics, you are almost guaranteed to find other assumptions by other philosophers that contradict the assumptions of science.

            One can be a great scientist without knowing anything at all about the philosophy of science and without knowing anything about metaphysics. I am not sure it is exactly analogous, but one can be a good person without studying ethics. And if a person does study ethics, there will be many ethical theories that he or she rejects. So I don't think it would be legitimate to say that such a person's behavior is contingent on ethics.

          • ClayJames

            Metaphysics as a field is a collection of writings of people who disagree with one another. Consequently, it makes no sense to me to say that science is "contingent" on metaphysics. It may require assumptions that you identify as metaphysical in nature, but within the field of metaphysics, you are almost guaranteed to find other assumptions by other philosophers that contradict the assumptions of science.

            Once again, disagreement regarding the validity of certain assumptions does not mean that science is not contingent on these assumptions. In no way does this follow. All this would mean is that science is contingent on certain assumptions that not everyone agrees with.

            One can be a great scientist without knowing anything at all about the philosophy of science and without knowing anything about metaphysics.

            That is correct and yet, this does not mean that science is not contingent on philosophical assumptions. By contingent, I simply mean that it is dependent. Whether someone knows this or not is completely beside the point. You don´t have to reason yourself from philosophy in order to do science, but the application of science is dependent on philosophical assumptions that we hold to be true (even if a scientist does not know what those are).

            I am not sure it is exactly analogous, but one can be a good person without studying ethics. And if a person does study ethics, there will be many ethical theories that he or she rejects. So I don't think it would be legitimate to say that such a person's behavior is contingent on ethics.

            It is not only not analogous but it is also completely irrelevant. Contingency does not require someone to know a belief´s contingent assumptions or agree about these assumptions.

          • David Nickol

            As I said, virtually everything human beings think and do requires some basic assumptions that can be called metaphysical and cannot be proven. You seem to be implying that this makes metaphysics as a whole not just important, but anterior and superior to science. I say, "Baloney!" Science is not contingent on the field of metaphysics. Much of what is within the field of metaphysics is irrelevant or downright detrimental to science. To say science or anything else is contingent on metaphysics is false. Just because science or scientists may make assumptions that you would classify as metaphysical says nothing about metaphysics as a field. It doesn't mean you or anyone else can say, "Well, you know science, but I know metaphysics, and you don't even know your own metaphysical assumptions, so you know less than I do." It does not mean that science is of no value without metaphysics. Although science has, or may need, some assumptions you may call metaphysical, that doesn't mean that science needs metaphysics.

            It is not impossible for me to imagine a world (or a time in the future) where metaphysics is not considered a field of study. You seem to want to exalt metaphysics, and to exalt it over science. It is not my intention to denigrate metaphysics. I am just saying that science doesn't need metaphysics, even though it undoubtedly involves assumptions that you would describe as metaphysical.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Science is not contingent on the field of metaphysics. Much of what is within the field of metaphysics is irrelevant or downright detrimental to science. To say science or anything else is contingent on metaphysics is false. Just because science or scientists may make assumptions that you would classify as metaphysical says nothing about metaphysics as a field. It doesn't mean you or anyone else can say, "Well, you know science, but I know metaphysics, and you don't even know your own metaphysical assumptions, so you know less than I do." It does not mean that science is of no value without metaphysics. Although science has, or may need, some assumptions you may call metaphysical, that doesn't mean that science needs metaphysics.

            This. Science needs very few assumptions to proceed. It certainly does not need some sort or Aristotelian metaphysic.

          • This. Science needs very few assumptions to proceed. It certainly does not need some sort or Aristotelian metaphysic.

            Does it not need a metaphysic of causation?

          • ClayJames

            Although science has, or may need, some assumptions you may call
            metaphysical, that doesn't mean that science needs metaphysics.

            It means, by definition, that science is contingent on certain metaphysical beliefs, which is all that I am claiming. It makes no sense to say that science has metaphysical assumptions and that science is not contingent on metaphysics. If science has metaphysical assumptions then it follows that science is contingent on metaphysics.

            Your claims about which one is superior or who knows more than the other or whether metaphysics can be proven or whether science is of no value without metaphysics are complete strawman that miss the point and have nothing to do with contingency.

            You seem to want to exalt metaphysics, and to exalt it over science.

            Not at all, I am simply saying that science is contingent on certain metaphysical assumptions. I think we should strive to develop more scientists that metaphysicists, I think there will be more progress in science than metaphysics and I think scientists can do great science without really understanding metaphysical assumptions or the philosophy of science. Having said all this, it does not mean that science is not contingent on philosophical (part of this being metaphysical) assumptions.

            Even though this is not relevant to my point, the biggest irony with your claim that I am attacking science in favor of philosophy is that I am a scientist. However, this does not mean I have to be ignorant regarding the philosophy of science, the limits of science and the assumptions that science is contingent on.

          • David Nickol

            It means, by definition, that science is contingent on certain metaphysical beliefs, which is all that I am claiming.

            That one can identify underlying assumptions by those who engage in scientific endeavors, or who go grocery shopping, or who plant a garden, or who brew beer, and that those assumptions can (if one likes) be classified as metaphysical, says absolutely nothing about metaphysics as a field of intellectual inquiry (if it is one). Science lends no credibility to metaphysics as a whole.

            Suppose I scoff at metaphysics as a whole (which I do not), and someone says to me, "But you believe the sun will rise tomorrow. That is a metaphysical assumption." I can respond, "You can call it a metaphysical assumption if you like. That doesn't mean I shouldn't scoff at metaphysics. I grant that I am making an assumption, but that doesn't validate all of metaphysics, or metaphysics as field of intellectual inquiry. Why should I respect a whole field, the study of which shows that each important new practitioner disagrees with his predecessors?"

          • ClayJames

            David, we keep repeating ourselves.

            Whether anything can be said about metaphysics as a field of inquiry based on its assumptions says nothing about science´s contingency.

            Whether science lends credibility to metaphysics says nothing about its contingency.

            Whether you are justified in scoffing at metaphysics says nothing about science bieng contingent on metaphysical assumptions.

            Whether you want to validate metaphysics, respect the field or have something to say about disagreements within the field itself, says nothing about science being contingent on metaphysical assumptions.

            You have yet to show, as you assert, that science is not contingent on metaphysics and have offered nothing but red herrings.

          • David Nickol

            I think there is a difference between saying, "Science is contingent on metaphysics," and, "In the human activity of science, as in virtually all human activities, there are underlying assumptions that cannot be proven that people interested in metaphysics would classify as metaphysical."

            To say that science is contingent on metaphysics seems to me an utterly trivial statement that tells us nothing of importance about science or metaphysics. In some ways it is like saying language is contingent on linguistics.

            Your argument could be extended to say that animal behavior is contingent on metaphysics. Some friends of mine used to live in a loft apartment, and if the door was left open, the cat would escape to the stairwell. It was difficult to catch him, but all you had to do to make him come running back was rattle the paper bag his dry cat food came wrapped in.

            It seems to me there are "possible worlds" in which metaphysics is not a field of study. If so, are the assumptions that can't be proven in such a world contingent on metaphysics? It is utterly possible to make assumptions (the future will be like the past, the sun will rise tomorrow) without having ever heard of metaphysics.

            Also, would you say science is contingent on all of metaphysics? There is much a person will come across in the study of metaphysics that is irrelevant to science, and much that is "anti-science." So the only thing I think can be said of science and metaphysics is that there are assumptions that cannot be proved that underlie scientific endeavors that people who are interested in metaphysics would identify as metaphysical. There are also assumptions that can be identified as metaphysical that are worthless, and still others that would (if taken seriously) stop science in its tracks.

          • I think there is a difference between saying, "Science is contingent on metaphysics," and, "In the human activity of science, as in virtually all human activities, there are underlying assumptions that cannot be proven that people interested in metaphysics would classify as metaphysical."

            To say that science is contingent on metaphysics seems to me an utterly trivial statement that tells us nothing of importance about science or metaphysics. In some ways it is like saying language is contingent on linguistics.

            Suppose you are right. Then, I think Ian Hacking must be worried as follows:

            An inane subjectivism may say that whether p is a reason for q depends on whether people have got around to reasoning that way or not. I have the subtler worry that whether or not a proposition is as it were up for grabs, as a candidate for being true-or-false, depends on whether we have ways to reason about it. The style of thinking that befits the sentence helps fix its sense and determines the way in which it has a positive direction pointing to truth or to falsehood. If we continue in this vein, we may come to fear that the rationality of a style of reasoning is all too built-in. The propositions on which the reasoning bears mean what they do just because that way of reasoning can assign them a truth value. Is reason, in short, all too self-authenticating? (Language, Truth, and Reason)

            One thing metaphysics does is unify disparate fields of science, preventing the kind of fragmentation which Hacking worries may continue without end. There's an SEP article on this: The Unity of Science. Logical Positivism was supposed to unify science; F.A. Hayek has some fascinating things to say about that endeavor in Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason.

            Your comment on language is also very interesting. It seems like you might hold something like the picture theory of language. This can be contrasted to views where language is ontological; Bishop Berkeley held this view, as can be seen by my friend Kenny Pearce's The Semantics of Sense Perception in Berkeley, published in Religious Studies 44 (2008): 249-268. (Kenny Pearce received his PhD in philosophy from USC a few years ago.) On his writings page, you can also see that Kenny has a monograph under review, Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World. He wrote a dissertation on the matter and as per usual, has turned it into a book.

            French sociologist Jacques Ellul rails against the picture theory of language in his The Humiliation of the Word. He also talks about it in Hope in Time of Abandonment; a few snippets from the latter:

                For the past fifteen yeas or so, there has been a great to-do about language. Countless scientific studies have brought its analysis to a fine point. Language is placed at the center of man, of science, of society. It becomes the master key to all thought. Yet at the same time, these very subtle studies lead unfailingly to an almost total formalism. This vital language, in the final analysis, is a mere form. Its content has no meaning. (29)

                Yet its significance is important. It is precisely the fact that the word is entirely dissociated from the person. It is no longer the person in action, the person fully involved in his word. It is, to the contrary, a means of disguising the person, of concealing the self. The word is no longer a commitment and a disclosure of oneself. With reference to oneself it is a pure sound, a sound I can utter without putting myself into it and which, by that very fact, is always a useful instrument for deceiving my hearer. That is the real significance of today's universal devaluation of the oath. (31)

            The language study now being undertaken rests, as far as the intellectuals are concerned, on the profound conviction either that communication is impossible or indeed that there is nothing to communicate. (32)

                From this comes modern man's feeling of the extreme fragility of society, of a hidden overall crisis, of catastrophe lurking in the shadows, ready to be let loose by any one of his acts. It is a mentality of magic and superstition which develops in direct ratio to the crises of language and law, as a sort of shield. One has to manage as best he can with the future unknown. Since the means we once had at our disposal are gone, let's carry out whatever rites are necessary to propitiate the powers of darkness. (35)

            For more on the centrality of language to culture and society, see these excerpts.

          • Science is not contingent on the field of metaphysics.

            Is this true? Consider causation: does it come in through the senses, or is it added, psychologically? Hume did not believe that you could have evidence of causation. He viewed us as taking in a swirl of uninterpreted data, which we would then interpret. Was he wrong, and if so, how was he wrong?

            I was first clued into the mess that is 'metaphysics of causation', when I read Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles. Fales does not believe that miracles happen; he argues against them in a chapter in the anthology, Debating Christian Theism. Nevertheless, Fales acknowledges that 'metaphysics of causation' (my term, I think—not sure he uses it) is a huge, gigantic mess. If you want to see evidence of this, see Rom Harré's and E.H. Madden's Causal Powers: Theory of Natural Necessity, as well as Roy Bhaskar's The Possibility of Naturalism: A philosophical critique of the contemporary human sciences (3900 'citations'):

                In response to its echo in sceptical doubt, modern philosophy has typically set itself the task of showing how our knowledge is justified, or more specifically how science is rational. As Lukács characterized it: ‘acknowledging as given and necessary the results and achievements of the special sciences, philosophy’s task is to exhibit and justify the grounds for regarding the concepts they construct as valid’.[19] now such an exercise presupposes both a certain view of knowledge (so that it is intrinsically circular); and implicitly of the world (that is, of the way the world must be for knowledge of the presumed sort to be possible). Given the nature of its implicit ontology this curious epistemological project must, as is evinced by the history of post- Humean philosophy of science,[20] end in formal failure. I am therefore going to propose a reversal in our conception of the programme of philosophy. On it, one no longer implicitly makes certain (extraordinary) assumptions about the world overtly to demonstrate, but perhaps covertly to deny, the rationality of science. Rather, one assumes at the outset the intelligibility of science (or rather of a few generally recognized scientific activities) and asks explicitly what the world must be like for those activities to be possible. This programme not only yields new insight into the structure of scientific knowledge (the form that it must take if it is to be knowledge of a world investigated by such activities), but enables us to see that the tacit presupposition (of a closed world, completely described) on which the traditional problem of its rationality was hung is inconsistent with its very possibility. (8–9)

            [19] G. Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (London 1971), p. 110.
            [20] See, for example, R. Harré, The Principles of Scientific Thinking (London 1970), ch. 1 and passim.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Once again, disagreement regarding the validity of certain assumptions
            does not mean that science is not contingent on these assumptions

            This would be a lot easier if you just listed the assumptions that are necessary for science.

          • ClayJames

            One that is especially pertinent to this discussion is the assumption of methodological naturalism. Science assumes that all causes are natural and so that if someone is trying to conclude a supernatural cause from any event, then they are not doing science. And yet, you have self proclaimed proponents of scientific thinking like Richard Dawkins claiming that God is a scientific hypothesis.

            My initial response was to Brian Green Adams who said that science can confirm the afterlife, dualism or the existence of god. This is a nonsensical statement considering the scientific assumption of methodological naturalism. So the failure to understand the philosophical assumptions that permeate science leads people to make some very unscientific conclusions.

          • Phil

            Hey David,

            I am a little confused by the above.

            Metaphysics seeks to describe the underlying structure of reality as it actually exists. A metaphysical view therefore can be true or false based upon the epistemological principles of consistency, coherency, and explanatory power.

            Metaphysics does not use the "scientific method", it is its own study and has its own method. It looks at reality empirically and then reasons abstractly about what is necessary for these things to exist and act as they do right now.

            Metaphysics is a more primary way of studying reality than science because it studies being as being. In the end, science and metaphysics are, and should be, harmonious. If there is a true contradiction, either our metaphysics or scientific conclusion is wrong, or our understanding of one, or both, of those is wrong.

          • David Nickol

            A metaphysical view therefore can be true or false based upon the
            epistemological principles of consistency, coherency, and explanatory
            power.

            So is Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysics "true"? If so, why say science is contingent on metaphysics? Why not say science is contingent on Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysics?

            Has Hume been proved right or wrong about causation? Why do the textbooks I have on metaphysics always present more than one opinion regarding every issue? Why don't they just weed through and present the "metaphysical truth"?

            What do you consider five basic truths of metaphysics?

          • Phil

            Why do the textbooks I have on metaphysics always present more than one opinion regarding every issue? Why don't they just weed through and present the "metaphysical truth"?

            Has Hume been proved right or wrong about causation?

            If this is hinting towards a belief that "because people debate about which metaphysical understanding is most true, therefore metaphysics can't come to any real truth", then this is obviously not a good argument. Every area of study, including the physical sciences themselves, would be destroyed by this type of thinking.

            Now, if someone asks the question--why is there so much debate over metaphysics and philosophical topics in general right now?--I believe there are a lot of things at work, but here are a few:

            1) Many people have not been trained how to do metaphysics, and philosophy in general, well over the past 50-75 years or so.

            Part of this is philosophy has become too specialized; you first need to learn how to think critically using philosophy starting with the general big questions and principles, and then move to the more specific questions. Now those in college take a very specific course as part of core classes and they get "the tree" without seeing "the forest". But without the forest, you have no clue if you are talking about the tree correctly or coherently. This is very different from science, so part of it may be that many just don't know how to think in this way.

            2) Because of the great advances in the modern sciences over the past 100-200 years, there has been an emphasis on them at the expense of other valid disciplines. Sometimes people want to reduce everything to the physical sciences, which is a recipe for intellectual suicide! (And why many brilliant scientists end up making ridiculous metaphysical/philosophical claims!)

            3) Every single person is a "philosopher" insofar as people can't stop doing philosophy. Every decision and action a person partakes in has a philosophical/metaphysical assumption underlying it, and many people are completely oblivious to these assumptions and how to figure out if it is even a valid underlying belief.

            If you put (1) and (2) together, this means that people start doing philosophy with science, because it is what they know and they don't know how to think critically using philosophy. This again is a recipe for disaster and intellectual suicide!

            [On Hume--I personally believe, along with many others, that Hume's theory of causation is, beyond a reasonable doubt, false. One reason being that it cannot support a coherent physical science. In short, if science is coherent, then Hume's version of causality is false.]

            So is Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysics "true"? If so, why say science is contingent on metaphysics? Why not say science is contingent on Aristotelian/Thomist metaphysics?

            For any knowledge, the best explanation is the one that is the most consistent (with all the relevant data), most coherent (with itself), and most comprehensive (explains the most). This is what we judge any sort of scientific theory or belief in general.

            It is the same for a philosophical/metaphysical theory. I have found, along with a long list of people from about 1200AD to even the present day that the A-T metaphysics does all three of these the best out of any system we've come across. I am speaking here of A-T metaphysics in the most general sense (that is, that the underlying structure of physical reality exhibits formal, final, efficient, and material "causality", and is subject to actuality and potency), and I'm definitely not speaking about A-T physics/biology (which much of it is wrong).

            This doesn't mean I believe that A-T is the end all, be all. In fact, I'm sure I make small modifications to what Aristotle and Aquinas have said. There will always be more clarifications that can be made, because we will never have complete knowledge here on earth in regards to any area of knowledge.

          • Phil

            Check out this lecture from last year:

            http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/The%20Vindication%20of%20St%20Thomas%207-14-14.pdf

            I just stumbled across this great lecture from last year on the revenge of the metaphysics of Aristotle/Aquinas. It is making a comeback as I have personally experienced. He does also address Hume and the theories of causality.

            A quote:

            "In 1990 James Ross published one of his typical papers, both zany and perspicacious, entitled “The Fate of the Analysts: Aristotle’s Revenge." The paper contains a powerful argument for the claim that the advance of natural science in the 20th century has exposed as woefully inadequate the substitutes for an Aristotelian philosophy of nature and philosophical anthropology that were invented by 17th and 18th century philosophers."

          • David Nickol

            Here's a quote from Metaphysics, Fourth Edition, by Peter Van Inwagen, which I have posted before, which I think should clarify my position that metaphysics does not precede science:

            In metaphysics there is no information, and there are no established facts to be learned. More exactly, there is no information and there are no facts to be learned besides information and facts about what certain people think, or once thought, concerning various metaphysical questions. A history of metaphysics will contain much information about what Plato and Descartes and the other great metaphysicians of the past believed. . . .

            . . . Why is there no such thing as metaphysical information? Why has the study of metaphysics yielded no established facts? (It has had about twenty-five hundred years to come up with some.) This question is really a special case of a more general question: Why is there no such thing as philosophical information? The situation confronting the student of metaphysics is in no way different from the situation confronting the student of any part of philosophy. If we consider ethics, for example, we discover that there is no list of established facts the student of ethics can be expected to learn (nor are there accepted methods or theories the specialist in ethics can apply to search out and test answers to resolve ethical questions). And the same situation prevails in epistemology and the philosophy of mathematics and the philosophy of law and all other parts of philosophy. Indeed, most people who have thought about the matter would take this to be one of the defining characteristics of philosophy. . . .

          • Mike
        • It may be true that some "philosophical" assumptions are necessary to carry out scientific endeavors. But I'll go out on a limb here and say they may be stated rather simply and plainly, and a great deal in Philosophy-with-a-capital-P (what one studies as a philosophy major) either has nothing to do with science or undercuts it.

          I suggest reading Paul Feyerabend's The Tyranny of Science. See also Richard J. Bernstein's Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis. If you think that the assumptions are easy, then you need to explore metaphysics of causation. For that, Evan Fales' Divine Intervention: Metaphysical and Epistemological Puzzles is good. And if you think that science understands 'rationality', I suggest checking out Gregory W. Dawes' Theism and Explanation; an excerpt from the last:

          3.4.1 Intentional and Causal ExplanationsA first objection rests on the very character of intentional explanations. It suggests that a theistic explanation could not be both intentional and causal, since these represent distinct and mutually exclusive forms of explanation. No intentional explanation is a causal explanation. But I believe this claim to be wrong, for reasons I shall outline later (Appendix 1.1). I have no argument with the idea, defended by Donald Davidson, that intentions are causes and that intentional explanations are also causal explanations.[76] There is one issue that needs to be clarified here. I have suggested that intentional explanations are not nomological (3.2.1). They do, if you like, depend on something resembling a law, namely the rationality principle. But they do not depend on law-like generalisations linking particular intentions and particular actions. Does this mean that they cannot be regarded as causal explanations? Only if you believe that the citing of causal laws is a necessary condition of a causal explanation. But I shall argue later that it is not (Appendix 3.3.1), that causal explanations do not necessarily involve causal laws.[77] If this is true, then there is no difficulty with the idea that an intentional explanation is also a causal explanation. (Theism and Explanation, 51)

          I predict that most influential, and most popular, conceptions of naturalism will have a huge problem with the conjunction "not nomological" ∧ "causal".

          Furthermore, I don't think you're respecting what the pluralism of WP: Interpretations of quantum mechanics means For a hint, an excerpt from physicist David Bohm, who probably should have gotten a Nobel Prize for the Aharonov–Bohm effect:

              The assumption that any particular kind of fluctuations are arbitrary and lawless relative to all possible contexts, like the similar assumption that there exists an absolute and final determinate law, is therefore evidently not capable of being based on any experimental or theoretical developments arising out of specific scientific problems, but it is instead a purely philosophical assumption. (Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, 44)

          Finally, see Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics, as well as critiques of bad philosophy of three popular scientist–atheists: Lawrence Krauss, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Stephen Hawking. Oh, and note that Albert Einstein was a philsopher—a serious one!

        • Mike

          how do you know which way to INTERPRET the results of science if you don't have any prior commitment to any metaphysics?

          experimental data in theoretical physics can not tell you how to interpret the data itself.

          • Bob Bolondz

            Common sense?

          • Mike

            mine or yours?

          • Bob Bolondz

            Normal people's.

      • "A lot of the things that you mention that make science so great, from
        its methology to its consistency, are based on non-scientific,
        philosophical truths."

        This is true, science, like most disciplines, also applies logic and critical thinking that are refined and discussed in philosophy. But tell me, what truths has philosophy uncovered that are applied by science?

        Certainly logic and critical thinking are elements of philosophy that are very useful. But that is not the kind of knowledge or truth that we are discussing here are we? Are these the subjects that the author of this piece is saying scientism is ignoring? I think the author is talking about questions like: what is the universe, how does it work, where do we come from, what is the meaning of life, is there a god, is materialism true?

        Other than empirical questions which science has been extremely successful at, we are in no better a position to answer these questions than we were 2500 years ago.

        • ClayJames

          There are many assumptions (or truths) that science requires in order to come to its own conclusions. Here is Isaac Newton´s formulation: http://strangebeautiful.com/other-texts/newton-principia-rules-reasoning.pdf

          There are also others (some related) that assume the universe is objective, unified, contingent, accessible and rational.

          Most importantly, at least how it pertains to the point at hand, you have epistemological assumptions such as methodological naturalism. If people could understand that science holds this philosophical assumptions then they might stop saying that God is a scientific hypothesis (Dawkins) or require science to confirm the afterlife, dualism or the existence of god (you).

          My response to you tried to show the irony behind disregarding the importance of philosophical assumptions that science requires and at the same time, requiring science to answer questions that are outside its philosophical assumptions. So I think it is fair to ask that the philosophical assumptions that science requires be accepted and known in order to prevent extending science beyond its limits which is the main sin of scientism.

    • First of all science does not provide certainty, science makes inferences from observation and is a methodology for being as accurate as possible. These are always contingent on new information that might contradict it. It is a refined method of empiricism and critical thinking and I believe it is the best way to make inferences.

      Can science know of its own limitations? Or does one have to "jump out of" science in order to talk about them? If one does have to jump, to where does one jump? Also, where are you standing and what knowledge are you drawing on, to say "I believe it is the best way to make inferences"? For example, are you basing that 100% on "the evidence"?

      • Science doesn't do any of that. Science is a process that humans apply and humans are aware of its limitations.

        When I say "I believe it is the best way to make inferences" I am relying on my own experience of my observation and interpretation. I am basing it on evidence and reason like anything else.

        • Science doesn't do any of that. Science is a process that humans apply and humans are aware of its limitations.

          But how many are? See, for example, this excerpt from Nobel laureate Robert B. Laughlin's A Different Universe. Positivism is still a very real threat to science, I claim. Indeed, that's a huge issue with string theory. If you want to see some heat there, see Luboš Motl on what would falsify string theory and the discussion surrounding it.

          When I say "I believe it is the best way to make inferences" I am relying on my own experience of my observation and interpretation. I am basing it on evidence and reason like anything else.

          Ok; do you accept Ceteris Paribus Laws and if so, in which domains do you believe "it is the best way to make inferences"? Have you, as it were, "mapped out your ignorance"?

          • Steve Brown

            Amen! Well said. As Steven Weinberg pointed out "science is only descriptive".

          • Wait a second; from quantum physicist + philosopher Bernard d'Espagnat:

                In order to properly understand the nature of this argument, let us first derive from what has been recalled above the obvious lesson that (as already repeatedly noted) quantum mechanics is an essentially predictive, rather than descriptive, theory. What, in it, is truly robust is in no way its ontology, which, on the contrary, is either shaky or nonexistent. (On Physics and Philosophy, 148)

            The two options are:

                 (I) merely predictive
                (II) also descriptive

            Do you understand the difference? If so, is Weinberg saying (I), or (II)? You could also, for example, say what Weinberg is omitting, with the term "only descriptive". I realize he may be using his terms differently from d'Espagnat. I'm trying to understand that difference. For example, is he talking about is vs. ought? That would actually be quite different from what d'Espagnat is talking about.

          • Steve Brown

            Sorry that I haven't gotten back to you, Luke. I've been training for a career change. I realize that that quote by Weinberg has been abused much as it is often taken out of context. I must confess I am guilty as well.

            First, I don't think he even considers ought. He was comparing the physical sciences to the human (history, social sciences, anthropology, etc.)

            You can find the full essay by googling it as "Weinberg Can Science Explain Everything?"

            I had thought he meant that the data which science generates can provide no support for or against even such a philosophy as Scientific Naturalism. He rather throws up his hands and says "it's all we've got".

            I think that being the case, description precedes prediction. You can't predict what you can't describe (at least to some degree).

          • I had thought he meant that the data which science generates can provide no support for or against even such a philosophy as Scientific Naturalism. He rather throws up his hands and says "it's all we've got".

            I think there is conceptual confusion in this. I will underline the bits that can be said by science, and bold the things which cannot:

            I had thought he meant that the data which science generates can provide no support for or against even such a philosophy as Scientific Naturalism. He rather throws up his hands and says "it's all we've got".

            In other words: if science is "all we've got", then we can never know that it's all we've got. Weinberg had to "jump out of" science, in order to assert that science is all we've got. This is a deep problem; it has to do with Fitch's Paradox of Knowability, Gödel's incompleteness theorem, and perhaps whether we can establish the notions of 'truth' and 'falsity', with science alone.

            I think that being description precedes prediction. Your can't predict what you can't describe (at least to some degree).

            How about I take this one step further: you cannot even become conscious of something for which you do not have non-perceptual neuron-patterns: Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial). But how does the pattern for the phenomenon get imprinted on your non-perceptual neurons? There is an interesting conundrum here, which I can go more into later.

          • Steve Brown

            It seems analogous to Hume's conundrum. He asserts that all there is is sensation. If all there is, in our knowing, is sensation, then what's to distinguish one sensation from another? This was the reason the Scholastics posited the notion of common sense. (This is not to be confused with the same term used in common parlance - it is a term of the Rational Psychology of the Scholastics)

            To understand "common sense" above the 5 senses is to appreciate the need for a "higher vantage point" (Insight - Lonergan).

            You have the same problem with those who limit description of consciousness to monistic brain states. You can't get out of the problem by pushing it off to mathematical modeling either. If you model with "number" you are still left with number and energy wavelength whether it be sound, light or neurons firing. You have to adequately address the prolbem/principle of intentionality in Philosophy of Mind.

            People do not understand that Aristotle was responding not only to the Sophists but to the Atomists as well (Verbum - Lonergan). If everything is a particle then what is the foundation of reality? A single type of particle? Sean Carroll refers to the atomists in his talk on the Higgs Boson. You have the same conundrum with the Higgs Field/Particle. You can't reduce reality down to a single particle or even a few simple ones.

            "How about I take this one step further: you cannot even become conscious of something for which you do not have non-perceptual neuron-patterns"

          • Did you finish that comment? From what you said already, I think you'd like Colin McGinn's The Subjective View: Secondary Qualities and Indexical Thoughts. It's dry, but he makes it clear that Intellect is required by a view of science which eschews secondary qualities and indexical propositions. A few bits I especially liked:

            The agency theory, like the utility theory, locates the raison d'être of indexicals in their practical role: they are ineliminable because they are necessary for action. As I remarked in chapter 5, indexicals have recently been associated with practical reasoning, the thesis being that indexical thought is a necessary condition of agency.[48] The present suggestion, then, is that indexical concepts are ineliminable because without them agency would be impossible: when I imagine myself divested of indexical thoughts, employing only centreless mental representations, I eo ipso imagine myself deprived of the power to act. (105)

            This can be intensified by the active role vision in humans take. Two more bits from McGinn:

            It seems, then, that we have the same kind of structure as in the case of secondary qualities: a coming together of a mind subjectively constituted in a certain way and an objective world, where the mind establishes a direct cognitive relation to the world by dint of subject-involving representations. (106)

            Chapter 7 The Manifest Image and the Scientific Image[1]The world as it is presented to us in perception—the manifest image—includes secondary qualities; but the world as described by (physical) science is independent of this or that creature's perceptual peculiarities—it deals only in primary qualities. The exclusion by the scientific image of secondary qualities implies, by the considerations of chapter 6, that the scientific standpoint is not and cannot be a perceptual standpoint: the content of the scientific conception is not a possible (total) content of experience. Certainly we perceive some of the properties science ascribes to things, for we perceive primary qualities; but it is not possible to perceive only such qualities. Since perception is not a faculty through which it is possible to prescind from our subjective contribution, whereas the scientific image attempts to do precisely that, we cannot hope to make the content of scientific theories intelligible to ourselves by imagining, still less occupying, a perceptual standpoint embodying all and only the representations of the world offered by science: the scientific image is not an image at all.[2] To make sense of science, then, it seems that we need something more like the rationalists' idea of 'pure intellection'—a means of mental representation which is non-sensory in character.[3] (111)

            !!

          • Steve Brown

            Yes, I had finished commenting. Thanks for the links. I'm still getting through Bennett and Hacker's tour de force:
            Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. It caused quite a stir. In fact a conference was held and attended by Dennett et al over it. They especially were objecting to the merological fallacy - ascribing all psychological attributes to the brain alone.

          • Oh excellent; I have requested that from my library, to supplement my 2006 Contemporary Debates in Cognitive Science, which was the textbook for a "Philosophy of Neuroscience" course I took. I'm still in communication with the professor (Edouard Machery) who gave the course; he has me reading William C. Wimsatt's Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality and Arguing About Human Nature, an anthology which Machery and Stephen M. Downes edited. Thanks for adding to my reading list. :-)

            They especially were objecting to the merological fallacy - ascribing all psychological attributes to the brain alone.

            So... The Extended Mind + ecological psychology?

    • Phil

      I think what has happened since the enlightenment is that Science has
      been so successful in many fields that we wonder why it hasn't confirmed
      anything like a state of affairs that most religious claim is true. The
      existence of an afterlife, a realm of angels demons and deities that
      interact with the cosmos in intelligible purposeful ways.

      I am always mystified by this line of thought because it is equal to saying, "Why is this infrared sensor not picking up any x-rays?" It must be because x-rays don't exist.

      This makes it very clear that only unless one begins by assuming science is the only tool to discover truth about the entirety of reality will one be able to hold that the things that science doesn't discover don't exist. (Which is like assuming that the infrared sensor is the only way to discover all wavelengths of all electromagnetic spectrum.)

  • The following empirical science is a necessary addition. From neuroscientist/​neurobiologist Antonio Damasio's Descartes' Error (20,000 'citations'):

    When emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions. (xii)

    There is a reason the book is called Descartes' Error. :-D

    My Si enim fallor, sum. may slot in here as well. I juxtapose:

         (I) Descartes' "Cogito, ergo sum."
        (II) Augustine's "Si enim fallor, sum."

    Descartes was influenced by Augustine's claim, which translates as something like "If truly I err, I am." Now, one can argue against this based on the claim that Augustine only accepted "medicinal grace", instead of "grace which creatively adds to one's being". Louis Dupré discusses the difference here in his chapter "The Fateful Separation", within Passage to Modernity. John Milbank also does in The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural. Finally, one can consult Peter Enns' Does Evolution Cancel Out the Fall of Adam? Depends on Whose Adam You Have in Mind, and the article he discusses, John Schneider's “The Fall of ‘Augustinian Adam’: Original Fragility and Supralapsarian Purpose”. One can contrast:

         (A) Augustine's Adam: perfect until they Fell
         (B) Irenaeus' Adam: imperfect before they Fell (and after!)

    Milbank quotes someone as pointing out that after every individual creation, God declared the creation 'good', except for the creation of Adam. It may be helpful to see how people are tempted to conflate 'perfect' with 'complete'. Can there be an incomplete being which is nonetheless not 'in sin'? Irenaeus would say "yes", while Augustine would say "no". Or so I am told; I have not examined the primary sources.

    How does this connect to the reason/​emotion thing? Well, can our emotional responses be wrong/​corrupted? If "no", then there is no truth-value to them. If "yes", then there is truth-value, and we can readmit goodness and beauty to the triad of objectivity, along with truth, which is quickly loosing its membership.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    There need be no denegration of science or scientific answers; and I hope this was not the author's intent. The sciences have a richness and beauty of their own. Saying that love is mere chemistry not only belittles love, it belittles chemistry. Chemistry is incredible! The interaction of molecules is a rich dance, a grand ballet underlying the structure of most of what we see and interact with, invisible, colourless if we could see small enough, silent, odourless dancers bringing forth all the rich colours and sounds, all the lights and scents of human experience.

    Two places I find transcendence are looking at the stars at night in the mountains, and while singing carols during the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve. Both of these experiences, of the physical richness both of Nature and of Catholic Worship, find their substance in chemistry.

    I agree with the author love isn't only Chemistry. There's Physics, too!

    Seriously, though, there's much more truth than is found in science, but that doesn't make science a bunker, or theology much of a soaring landscape.

    If I were to set an analogy, I would talk about being on an forested mountain island in the middle of a foggy sea. I can enjoy the clarity and rich detailed beauty by wandering the island. Or I can set out to the shores of philosophy, or even the distant seas of theology. The haar obscures the forms at sea. All that theology and philosophy can draw are vague forms and silhouettes. These may be shadows of the most profound truths, but they are shadows only, and given my own personality, I prefer the clarity of the shells and rocks and plants I find on the island, simple though they may appear.

    If I were to include the heavens, the clouds and sky and stars, in my analogy, I would give this higher realm solely to the poets.

    Few practicing scientists are always and ever confined to the island. We may find greatest joy exploring the island, and some may imagine in prouder moments that the island is the best place to live, or even the only place to live. But very few working scientists spend all their time and all their thoughts on the island. Some will take vacations into the clouds or will sail into the ocean. Most will happily listen to and argue about the news provided by those expert in exploring these regions, even if many of the islanders (this landlubber included) have little interest themselves in going out to sea, or very far into the sky.

    • Mike

      very nice.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Dude.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Duuuuude. Hi Kevin! I hope all is well.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Thanks. It is. Working very had and going to school. Just came up for a gulp of air before going under again!

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            It's great to see you on here again, Kevin. I hope things are going well with school and work. What are you studying?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm pursuing a MA in Theology with an emphasis on Sacred Scripture at Holy Apostles College and Seminary (an on-line program).

    • Kevin Aldrich

      The island is such a great place because everything in it is real.

      But metaphysics claims "There is therefore a path which the human being may choose to take, a path which begins with reason's capacity to rise beyond what is contingent and set out towards the infinite" (Fides et ratio 24).

  • Mike

    sometimes a bunker can be so deep and so elaborate that you don't even notice that you are in one.

    • Bob Bolondz

      Then what's the problem?

      • Mike

        you might not be in one.

        • Bob Bolondz

          How is that bad?

          • Mike

            it's bad bc it's false.

          • Bob Bolondz

            Then you disagree with the article?

          • Mike

            is truth itself bad? no matter if the truth hurts it by self is always good is it not?

            truth=good=existence i've read that those 3 things are different aspects of the same thing.

          • Bob Bolondz

            People tell white lies all the time. Is that bad?

          • Mike

            yes lying is always bad. falsity is essentially bad.

            but some bad things are out weighed by good things..a surgeon almost chopped of my wife's co-workers son's arm a month ago bc he was in danger of losing his vital organs to the flesh eating bac which was in his arm. the doc. would have done a very bad thing for a very good reason.

          • Bob Bolondz

            Is flesh eating bacteria "good" because it exists? Would it be wrong to wipe it out entirely if we could? Would that make man a bad

            steward of creation?

          • Mike

            yes it is good that it exists in itself. it does what is good for it and it is nothing else if not beautiful and amazing and complex and fascinating...but in a person's arm it is bad, just as the surgeon cutting off an arm is doing something very bad but when it is the best course of action it is good.

            if we could wipe out that bacteria it would be very VERY GOOD. the assumption there is just that we are the point of creation and that everything else exists for our benefit. obviously that means loving creation and caring for it but only bc it supports us not the other way round.

          • Bob Bolondz

            "truth=good=existence" Can nonexistence be better?

          • Mike

            non existence can't be anything i think, even Evil exists but only as parasitical on good.

          • Bob Bolondz

            "...It would be better for that man if he had never been born." Matthew 26:24

            Jesus seems to be saying nonexistence would be better than existence in this situation. Maybe there are other situations where that would also be true.

          • Mike

            i don't think that's the point that jc was trying to make but anyway what situations to do you have in mind?

          • Bob Bolondz

            Maybe life in general.

          • Mike

            i think i know what you mean. i did not choose to be here and yet i am told that i will live forever!

          • Bob Bolondz

            So much for free will.

          • Mike

            not quite.

  • GCBill

    I think scientifically-minded people tend to be more interested in questions of meaning and purpose than the population at large. I think curiosity is not (or perhaps even can't be) strictly domain-specific. Also and for the same reason, you tend to see religious people who are very interested in science and philosophy as well.

    At least, that's what I've gathered from the time I've spent around practicing scientists. It's those who aren't concerned about any type of truth at all that we should be most worried about, not the overly-empirical nor the discouraged idealists, for both of the latter groups contain many folks who are still philosophers at heart.

    • "I think scientifically-minded people tend to be more interested in questions of meaning and purpose than the population at large."

      I'm quoting Richard Dawkins here, arguably the most famous biologist in the world:

      "What I would say about the question, 'Why [are we here]?', is why do you think you have any right to ask it? It's not a meaningful question....You want [to know] about the purpose of mountains--it's a silly question and it doesn't deserve an answer....The correct answer is, 'Don't ask such a silly question.'"

      (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSZ_fsG5uMg)

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Even if your characterization of Dawkins is correct, it does not invalidate GCBill's claim, which is that scientists tend to be more interested in questions of meaning and purpose. One datum cannot speak to a trend.

        • "Even if your characterization of Dawkins is correct, it does not invalidate GCBill's claim, which is that scientists tend to be more interested in questions of meaning and purpose. One datum cannot speak to a trend."

          Neither does an unsupported assertion stand without evidence, especially in light of counter-evidence.

          I'm curious how you or GCBill support the claim that scientists "tend to be" more interested in meaning and purpose. What data led you to that conclusion?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It never really occurred to me to ask whether scientists cared more than the general population about the big questions. I did a quick search on google scholar and I don't see anything. I willing to consider it an open question. I don't see how it or its negation is important to a larger point that either of us would want to make.

            My intuition tells me that GCBill's claim is true, but I wouldn't take it much farther than that. Scientists tend to be more intelligent and more bookish than the general population. I assume that such people tend to think more about the big questions. Most scientists that I have talked to have cared about big questions. Dawkins himself cares about big questions, so he isn't a very good counterexample.

      • GCBill

        I'm only predicting a correlation, so obviously I don't deny that there are exceptions. In fact, we should expect that there will be at least a few. But I imagine that you're generalizing from a different set of examples than I am. Do you think Dawkins's opinion on purpose represents anything close to the median scientist's? Because I don't get the impression that the "no right to ask" response is even that common among those who deny that there is some universal purpose. I'd guess that it's more common for purpose-denying scientists to see the question as legitimate, but think the answer is that there is none. And then there are some who do think there is some kind of purpose to reality. However, I will readily admit that this impression (for better or worse) is colored by personal experience.

      • I would be cautious about how well-representative Dawkins is of practicing scientists. I think he caters more to internet atheists and the like, these days. Because he has no absolute standards†, his only standard is 'society', where 'society' is just a subset of people. So don't blame him if he caters to that subset, but also don't think he well-represents folks outside that subset. The philosophy behind Ceteris Paribus Laws applies, here.

        † Nitpickers will have to deal with my exposition of Underdetermination of Scientific Theory and Theory and Observation in Science.

      • Dawkins: There are some questions which simply don't deserve an answer. (1:02)

        If you were to challenge Dawkins on what the 'line of demarcation' is between:

             (I) questions which deserve an answer
            (II) questions which do not deserve an answer

        , I think you'll find that Dawkins cannot give you a good answer. He will instead answer you by fiat, and if you ask "why?" to his answer, he'll look at you funny. That means he will presuppose that he is God in answering, because only God is beyond giving reasons why. After all, reasons have to bottom out somewhere (unless one likes one of the other options at Agrippa's trilemma). Do they bottom out in me, in which case I am the ultimate arbiter? Or do they bottom out somewhere else, or in someone else? Note that I need not presuppose foundationalism, here. I don't think I've [necessarily] presupposed univocity of being, but an A–T person will have to help me on that; I'm still weak on that area. :-/

        Now, maybe I've been too harsh (I have read The God Delusion). Dawkins might be able to say that he can give reasons for (i) material causation and (ii) efficient causation—but not (iii) formal causation and (iv) final causation. I don't know if he respects these categories. I think one aspect of deflationary theories of truth (e.g. dysteleology, aka teleonomy) is that people actually stop understanding categories of truth, if they stop acting as if those things are true. Jesus described this:

        And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Mark 4:21–25)

        If you use truth unwisely, or don't use it, then it will be taken away. Then maybe it can be given back to you, after you've taken enough laps around Mt. Sinai.

      • Mike

        atheist by defn can not answer any question that isn't 100% comprised of the abstracted mathematized parts of reality. it shoots itself in the foot from the get go.

        • Bob Bolondz

          The 1st Amendment gives them the right to answer questions. And there is no religious test for public office. Are you outside the U.S.?

          • Mike

            not if they are not 100% material.

          • Bob Bolondz

            Is that in some Supreme Court decision?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          atheist by defn can not answer any question that isn't 100% comprised of the abstracted mathematized parts of reality.

          Please show you work. Starting with:

          Definition: An atheist is someone who lacks belief in gods.

          • Can I try?

            1. "abstracted mathematized parts of reality" ⇒ reality can no longer causally impact them

            2. measurement is only possible by causally interacting

            3. every action requires an equal and opposite reaction

            4. being matter–energy beings, we cannot know about that which we cannot measure

            5. by 1.–4., we cannot know about "abstracted mathematized parts of reality"

            (Deflationary truth FTW!)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Can I try?

            Of course, but it is going to take me some time to go through the links. You are arguing for the opposite of what Mike said he was going to prove. He said we could only know abstracted mathematized parts of reality.

          • He said we could only know abstracted mathematized parts of reality.

            Pardon me? That's not how I read:

            M: atheist by defn can not answer any question that isn't 100% comprised of the abstracted mathematized parts of reality.

            Ummm, I mean, you're totally right, Ignatius! Actually, I think there's something very deep to the paradoxical situation, here. I am reminded of epiphenomenalism, and I think that whenever one shatters something that ought to have been a unity (e.g. mind and body, universal and particular), you get badness on both sides of the paradox. Make sense?

          • Mike

            atheist: person who by definition can not appeal to any notion that is denied by materialism/naturalism. but in a pinch will ascribe magically properties to matter.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Atheists do not need to be naturalists. I really don't see how this is an argument for your rather strong claim.

          • Mike

            ok name 1 atheist who is not a materialist or naturalist?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Most Buddhists

          • Mike

            strictly speaking but no serious atheist thinks that any of their beliefs have any evidence for them at least no more than trad monotheism.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            So you are going to shift goal posts ;-)
            Even assuming that atheists must be physicalists, I would like to see you show what you claimed.

          • Mike

            ;)

            from what i know of it phys. is just a supped up version of materialism which seems to come dangerously close to the arist-thomist conception of matter which is imbued with immanent powers.

            physicalism is a dodge it seems to me.

        • Doug Shaver

          atheist by defn can not answer any question that isn't 100% comprised of the abstracted mathematized parts of reality.

          I've never seen that definition of atheism, and I've been reading atheist literature for a very long time.

          • Mike

            but a defn such as "don't believe there are any gods" doesn't do very much does it?

            i mean what's the point if nothing necessarily flows from or is entailed by it?

          • Doug Shaver

            but a defn such as "don't believe there are any gods" doesn't do very much does it?

            It does all that any definition needs to do. It tells you what people who call themselves atheists are trying to tell you.

            i mean what's the point if nothing necessarily flows from or is entailed by it?

            What we believe, about things other than whether God exists, flow from or are entailed by other things that we do believe.

          • Mike

            maybe the crux is that we think that if there is an intelligence behind the world then there is some reason for it some purpose but if we believed there wasn't then we'd believe that there is no reason for the world and no reason or purpose or goal for us and nothing to live for or believe in etc.

            for you it seems being an atheist has very little to do with what else you believe about purpose, morality etc. which is interesting but ultimately imho incoherent.

            maybe the issue is more metaphysical bc we think that if there is NO purpose AT ALL in the world then the 'purpose' that we tell ourselves about or think there is, has to be an illusion, a useful one maybe but ultimately a grand delusion foisted on us by our genes and on them by physics and on physics by some "law" or some "brute fact" w/o any explanation.

          • Doug Shaver

            for you it seems being an atheist has very little to do with what else you believe about purpose, morality etc. which is interesting but ultimately imho incoherent.

            If there were no logical connection at all between my atheism and all my other beliefs, then that might be incoherent. But I'm not saying that there is no connection. The kind of thinking, reasoning, intuiting, etc. that leads me to my other beliefs is the same kind of thinking etc. that leads me to accept atheism. But this doesn't mean that I believe all those other things because I am atheist. It means that I am an atheist for the same reasons that I believe all those other things.

          • Mike

            i sometimes think that temperament has more to do with beliefs than strict reason...that's why i can't understand how ppl can find joy and wonder and 'the numinous' in a world totally devoid of meaning purpose or goals.

          • Doug Shaver

            i can't understand how ppl can find joy and wonder and 'the numinous' in a world totally devoid of meaning purpose or goals.

            Of course you can't understand it, because what you're trying to understand isn't really happening. It just isn't true that the world we materialists believe in is devoid of meaning, purpose, or goals. We do disagree with you about the source or origin of those things, but we don't deny their existence.

          • Mike

            ok so there we go again. i don't think that your beliefs are possible w/o an external reality or other level of reality.

            i know materialists believe in value etc but i can't see how they can account for it on their philo.

          • Doug Shaver

            i can't see how they can account for it on their philo.

            How hard have you tried to see it? Have you read anything on this subject that was written by a materialist philosopher?

          • Mike

            i get a very very good idea based on blog posts and comments i think.

            i haven't seen anything yet that would intrigue me enough to pursue further plus it denies an afterlife which again destroys imho morality.

          • Doug Shaver

            If you can't be moral without thinking you're going to live forever, then I'm mighty glad you think you're going to live forever.

          • Mike

            you can be moral w/o thinking your going to live for ever! of course you can but only bc you've assumed that your ACTIONS will still matter somehow in the future...in a future which of course won't exist.

            so my point is that you can believe that but that that belief, even of just your 'actions' surviving you is incoherent ultimately bc as we all know we are all going to die. so although your actions may make things better for the ppl you leave behind in the immediate future, all of those "good" actions will ultimately end up in nothing.

            aside from that morality can not be real imho w/o an afterlife or some standard 'outside' the system so to speak.

          • Doug Shaver

            you can be moral w/o thinking your going to live for ever!

            Then it is not true that denial of an afterlife destroys morality. You have contradicted yourself.

            but only bc you've assumed that your ACTIONS will still matter somehow in the future

            If you want to know what I'm assuming, ask me and I'll tell you. Please don't pretend to read my mind.

          • Mike

            i am not reading minds i am just seeing what's implicit in your view point imho.

            if there really is no afterlife of any sort and no "energy" surviving then there can be no morality beyond the imaginary kind.

          • Doug Shaver

            i am just seeing what's implicit in your view point imho.

            Your humble opinion is beside the point. If you say Y is implicit in X, then you need an argument showing that X contradicts the negation of Y.

            if there really is no afterlife of any sort and no "energy" surviving then there can be no morality beyond the imaginary kind.

            Suppose I want to murder you, and suppose I am convinced that I could do it without getting caught and punished, but I don't do it because I think it's just wrong to murder people. In that event, you will continue living. Is your life thereafter just a product of your imagination, or is it just a product of my imagination?

          • Mike

            ok maybe i should make clear that i think that all materialist/naturalist philosophies tend towards and inevitably result in eliminative materialism which according to its proponents entails that there is no such thing as morality or even intention and purpose even of the sort that you have in your mind now as you consider how to respond to me.

            why do you want to kill me? :) just kidding.

            ok suppose i told you that lions are immoral for killing gazelles that are babies, would you say that that made any sense? since lions don't have morality and indeed can not know what it is and indeed (according to a-t philosophy) do not survive the death of their bodies ie are purely material, they obv can't be said to be moral or immoral. they just do what is sort of pre-programmed by their environments and their natures and that's it but nowhere does the idea of 'right and wrong' make any sense. so that's what i think would be the case for us. we would be just like tigers or what have you and the appearance of morality would be just that an appearance only.

          • Doug Shaver

            ok maybe i should make clear that i think that all materialist/naturalist philosophies tend towards and inevitably result in eliminative materialism which according to its proponents entails that there is no such thing as morality or even intention and purpose even of the sort that you have in your mind now as you consider how to respond to me.

            I've done some reading about eliminative materialism, stuff written both by its proponents and by its opponents. Much of the latter was written by other materialists. It cannot be the case, then, that materialism inevitably leads one to eliminative materialism. If it did, then all materialists would eventually become eliminative materialists, but that doesn't happen.

            ok suppose i told you that lions are immoral for killing gazelles that are babies, would you say that that made any sense?

            No, I wouldn't.

            since lions don't have morality and indeed can not know what it is and indeed (according to a-t philosophy) do not survive the death of their bodies ie are purely material, they obv can't be said to be moral or immoral. they just do what is sort of pre-programmed by their environments and their natures and that's it but nowhere does the idea of 'right and wrong' make any sense.

            I agree that when applied to lion behavior, the idea of right and wrong doesn't make any sense. But I don't agree for the reasons you state here.

            so that's what i think would be the case for us. we would be just like tigers or what have you and the appearance of morality would be just that an appearance only.

            We do have much in common with other animals -- more in common than most people suspect. But there are also differences, and those differences suffice to justify our belief in a moral code that applies to us and us alone.

          • Mike

            well of course i'd say that those non-materialists are not following their philo where it leads but i know you disagree.

            "those differences suffice to justify our belief in a moral code that applies to us and us alone."

            that sounds positively christian! don't you think? anyway yeah we are different but in kind not degree; if however we are only different in degree then we may be more like a tiger or ape than a chicken ie a bit 'smarter' but still only a 'tiger' which just means that we are another animal for whom morality does not and can not exist for the reasons that they are 100% material and do not "KNOW" "good and evil, 1+1=2 and 1+2=4" so to speak.

            i guess my point is that if we are just more evolved 'monkeys' then we are really just monkeys and all our protestations amount to little more than chirps and squeaks and hamlet may SEEM like a work to genius but amounts to nothing more than some scrawls on the walls of a cave...a bit dramatic i know but that's what's at stake imho.

          • Doug Shaver

            well of course i'd say that those non-materialists are not following their philo where it leads but i know you disagree.

            Yes, because I disagree about materialism being a philosophy. It's an assumption that characterizes a certain class of philosophies.

            "those differences suffice to justify our belief in a moral code that applies to us and us alone."

            that sounds positively christian! don't you think?

            I don't see why in the world I would think that. Which part of my statement do you think Christians invented? The part that says there are differences between humans and other living creatures? Or the part that says morality is a uniquely human characteristic?

            anyway yeah we are different but in kind not degree

            A difference in degree can become a difference in kind.

            i guess my point is that if we are just more evolved 'monkeys' then we are really just monkeys

            You need to re-read whatever book you learned evolution from, or else find a book written by someone who actually accepts evolution. We are more evolved apes, not monkeys. Apes and monkeys have a common ancestor, but that ancestor was neither an ape nor a monkey. And in terms of understanding human evolution, the difference between apes and monkeys is neither trivial nor merely semantic.

            Yes, we are just apes, but that doesn't mean there is no difference between us and other apes. Chimpanzees and orangutans are both just apes, too, but nobody is claiming that whatever is true of a chimpanzee must also be true of an orangutan.

            And just as a by-the-way: We are not more evolved than other apes now alive. We are more evolved than the common ancestor we share with the other apes. We did not evolve more than gorillas or chimpanzees evolved. We just evolved differently than they did.

          • Mike

            well ok either way i think you sound very much like you agree with most of the basic issues but disagree on the best way to interpret them.

            anyway i really enjoyed the exchange, so gracias.

          • Doug Shaver

            i think you sound very much like you agree with most of the basic issues but disagree on the best way to interpret them.

            That can happen when reasonable people discuss issues of this sort.

            anyway i really enjoyed the exchange, so gracias.

            You're quite welcome. I enjoyed it, too.

          • David Nickol

            You say this exact same thing in about half your messages—this is not a criticism, just an observation—yet it seems to me you never make a case for why anyone else should feel the same way you do. I can say, "When I go out on a clear, dark night and look up at the stars, I think to myself, 'How could all of this exist without a God'?" I can respect this kind of personal, gut-level personal approach to belief. But why should your personal, gut-level responses be convincing to those who don't share them?

            It seems to me that a lot of time you are saying, "If atheism is true, then everything is pointless and meaningless, and I can't stand the idea of everything being pointless and meaningless, so I believe in God." But again, why should that persuade anyone else to believe? Isn't it just the flip side of the coin as something like, "If God exists, I have to obey all kinds of rules I don't like, so I choose to believe there is no God?"

          • Mike

            well i haven't seen any evidence that would show that on materialism, on strict materialism that there can be those things.

            check out this series: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.ca/2013/08/eliminativism-without-truth-part-i.html

            all naturalism/materialism i agree with feser ends up being eliminative and it as its prominent proponents say means/entails that all those things do not and can not exist. even dawkins says that all our hopes and dreams are merely the work of our genes which are only chemistry which is only physics which is only a brute fact.

            btw simply WANTING God i believe is a valid reason for going out to search for God. i think that all ppl have that thirst for meaning in their hearts but atheists it seems find it somewhere else but that is just a delusion of theirs imho as if all there is is matter and energy then all our dreams etc really do not exist in any meaningful sense.

          • Doug Shaver

            maybe the issue is more metaphysical bc we think that if there is NO purpose AT ALL in the world then the 'purpose' that we tell ourselves about or think there is, has to be an illusion, a useful one maybe but ultimately a grand delusion foisted on us by our genes and on them by physics and on physics by some "law" or some "brute fact" w/o any explanation.

            Just because our purposes don't exist independently of our own minds doesn't mean those purposes don't exist. It just means they might be of less cosmic importance than we might wish they were. I can understand why some people might feel some letdown when they realize that their lives have nothing to do with any reason for the universe's existence. As for myself, I've gotten used to it. I have my purposes, and they are real, and they give my life all the meaning I need it to have. May I suggest that people who need more than that might, just possibly, benefit from a re-examination of their commitment to the virtue of humility?

          • Mike

            it's i think a question of what makes sense of obj reality more than humility...the grandeur etc. should be approached with humility but the innate 'thirst' for meaning is i think nothing to be 'downplayed' but actually pursued.

            i can't see how honestly believing there is no purpose to the universe to us can be satisfying...i mean it just seems like something so un-human to me..but maybe i am just beg the q there!

          • Doug Shaver

            i can't see how honestly believing there is no purpose to the universe to us can be satisfying

            I don't judge an idea by the satisfaction I could get from believing it.

  • Peter

    The beauty is that one can still find God in the purely scientific without necessarily resorting to philosophy or theology. I don't mean intelligent design which looks for God in the unexplained complexity of things and current gaps in our knowledge, but the overall sense of purpose and meaning that a fuller scientific understanding of the cosmos inevitably brings.

    As a species we are at a unique crossroads, increasingly suspecting that we are not alone yet not quite able to know for certain. Consequently, any conclusions we make about the universe, about ourselves and our role within it, and about where we are going, are only half-baked and provisional.

    If, within the next several decades new telescopes detect signs of life in the atmospheres of distant worlds, that will change everything. It will not just alter our scientific understanding, but also radically impact on our philosophy and theology. A new age will have begun for humanity.

    • Paul F

      I think you are making a categorical mistake here. The cosmos is the realm of science, whereas questions of meaning and purpose are the realm of philosophy. When we study the cosmos we look only for physical matter and its interactions. That doesn't mean that we can't learn about meaning and purpose by reflecting on science, but this reflection is philosophical and not scientific.

      Science is a system of knowledge that employs certain methods to gain said knowledge. These methods were dreamed up by philosophers considering how the cosmos fits into reality. It would seem strange to abandon the thought processes that brought about the reason for their abandonment.

      • Peter

        Science is more than mere knowledge. It frees us from the yoke of creationism and intelligent design by progressively filling the gaps and delving deeper into the earliest origins of the world. Only by discovering through science what God is not - that God is neither a sorcerer nor an alchemist nor a watchmaker - can we discover who God actually is.

        Philosophy has always ultimately been the search for God. But it is science which is giving us the answers that philosophy cannot. It is science that is clearing away all the misconceptions about God, misconceptions that have caused so much discord in the past.

        The cosmos does not fit into reality; the cosmos is reality and everything fits into it. Getting to know the cosmos more and more through science is the only sure way of discovering reality and our purpose within it.

        • Paul F

          So what is the purpose of science then? Scientists collect data, make hypotheses, and set about to disprove them. The ones that seem impossible to disprove form the basis of models for the physical universe. So the end purpose of science, the ultimate model, is the universe itself. That is, it is all data on all particles and all their interactions.

          The shortfall of science is that nobody can know this ultimate model. And even if this knowledge were possible, it is still just knowledge. We would be left with the question of what to do with this knowledge. We are left with questions individually of how to have a full life and how to build societies that allow for many individuals to live full lives. The social sciences attempt to address these but examining the results shows that the social sciences are not really that scientific.

          We can employ scientific methods to study individuals and societies that have been successful. But we first have to determine what the measures of success are. What we choose to measure will be determined by our many biases, and our effort will prove to be most unscientific.

          I realize that I have a different model of reality in my mind than you have in yours. I am just trying to give the reasons why I prefer my model to yours.

          • Peter

            The main role of science is to answer the question: what is the source of reality? This used to be a philosophical question. It is now a scientific one. It belongs properly to the realm of science.

            Creationists believe that God supernaturally created the big bang with its inbuilt fine-tuning so that our universe would consequently unfold. Science aims to demonstrate that the big bang occurred through natural processes, but doesn't as yet have the means to do so.

            By pushing the boundaries of knowledge inwards through particle accelerators and outwards through new telescopes, the aim is to eventually cast light on the origin of the cosmos.

            Science is important because it is a declaration that the cosmos, including its origin, is progressively explainable.
            In philosophy, on the other hand, the origin of the cosmos is physically unexplainable and can only be explained through metaphysics.

          • Paul F

            I think my last comment appeared in the wrong place. It was supposed to be a response here

        • Paul F

          Your question presupposes an infinite universe. If we answer physically how the Big Bang occurred, then there were physical precursors to the Big Bang. We would still be left with wondering where they came from. Something physical would have to exist infinitely in order for the universe to have physical origins.

          The need for infinity in the universe is a conundrum for science. Science studies causes and effects in the physical world. Infinity means an effect without a cause. It means there is no initial state.

          Science is always the study of the finite. Even the universe has finite mass, finite energy, finite time. Physics doesn't speak to us about time before the Big Bang, or time after the universe, or space outside of the universe. Even if science answers every possible question, it's answers begin and end with the universe. It would still leave me wondering, "what was before the universe?", "what is outside the universe?", "what caused the universe?"

          • Peter

            If the universe is everything there is, then questions such as what was outside or before the universe, are rendered meaningless. So too is the question of what caused the universe, since there can be nothing outside of it or before it to cause it.

            However, the universe is everything there is four-dimensionally, so there can be nothing beyond it which is four dimensional. Whatever causes the universe must be five-dimensional, so that in the fifth dimension the universe appears as a four-dimensional space-time tapestry, instantly perceivable in its entirety.

            It may be that super aliens exist in this extra dimension and have engineered our four-dimensional universe as an experiment. Alternatively, the universe could have arisen naturally from within this dimension through processes we may never understand. Is God in this fifth dimension?
            I doubt it since there could be many dimensions above it.

          • Paul F

            I have heard a little of this fifth dimensional theory. From what I understand it is theoretical and could be explained as an artifact of misapplied mathematics or incomplete mathematical theories.

            Nonetheless, if this dimension exists, then it is a physical dimension, not another heaven-like realm. It is not another space in which the 4 dimensions formed, but rather another dimension along side the 4 that sprang from the Big Bang. I think to claim otherwise is to claim a priori knowledge of the universe, which is more of a philosophical pronouncement than it is a scientific one.

          • Peter

            There are a few scientific theories positing our universe as a four-dimensional brane in higher dimensional space, so it's not so much a philosophical pronouncement as you would imagine.

            If this higher dimension exists, how can we call it physical, since that term applies to four-dimensional space-time? It would be a realm where the physical does not exist as we understand it. If beings existed there, they would not be physical. Angels?

          • Paul F

            If it's non-physical then it is not studied by physics (or any other science), and it cannot be the dimension proposed by physicists. The many dimensions proposed by string theory, if they exist, are physical dimensions.

            I personally have a problem with additional physical dimensions. A physicist told me that in 5 dimensions, 3 dimensions looks like a plane and 4 dimensions looks 3-dimensional. I could not conceive of this and I think it's wrong. I think if you looked on a 4-dimensional space from 5 dimensions you would see solid, undifferentiated mass. I don't think it's one of those things that is difficult to imagine; I think it is impossible to imagine.

            Theologians teach that God lives in eternity and is outside of time; He can look on all of time (Einstein would say space-time) as a whole. This is analogous (or identical?) to the dimension you are talking about. It is something that I believe, so I'm not arguing whether this is possible; I am just arguing that it is not possible within the physical universe.

          • Peter

            It is also possible that within such a higher-dimensional realm, beings would not be immaterial, like angels, but instead be super-physical, like gods.

            That means having all the best physical and mental attributes simultaneously, since there would be no time dependency, plus other abilities which in our own four-dimensional space-time are restricted by the laws of nature.

            The beauty is that such a realm can be imagined through science, despite being counter-intuitive. Rather than acting like a bunker, science allows the mind to soar.

  • cminca

    "Philosophy must ground science and oversee it...."

    Are you suggesting that "Philosophy" should be able to veto either avenues of scientific investigation or results of scientific investigation that do not correspond to a particular school of philosophy?

    Because others on these boards have said as much.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      >Are you suggesting that "Philosophy" should be able to veto either avenues of scientific investigation or results of scientific investigation that do not correspond to a particular school of philosophy?

      One school of philosophy that should be vetoed in the interests of science is Hume's. Hume basically rejects the relationship between cause and effect, which scuttles the scientific method. Instead, a scientist needs a philosophy which demonstrates why and to what extent the scientific method can work.

      Ethics is a branch of philosophy which can veto certain avenues of scientific investigation, like those which experiment on persons without their knowledge or consent and which harm them.

      • David Nickol

        Kevin! Good to see you!

      • Hume basically rejects the relationship between cause and effect, which scuttles the scientific method.

        This is likely false, as it turns out (but many people have represented Hume this way). From IEP: Laws of Nature § Regularity:

        Recent scholarship (for example, that of J. Wright and of Beauchamp and Rosenberg) makes a convincing case that the received view as to what David Hume offered as an explication of the concept of law of nature was quite mistaken, indeed the very opposite of what Hume was arguing. What, historically, until late in the Twentieth Century, was called the "Humean" account of Laws of Nature was a misnomer. Hume himself was no "Humean" as regards laws of nature. Hume, it turns out, was a Necessitarian – i.e. believed that laws of nature are in some sense "necessary" (although of course not logically necessary). His legendary skepticism was epistemological. He was concerned, indeed even baffled, how our knowledge of physical necessity could arise. What, in experience, accounted for the origin of the idea? What, in experience, provided evidence of the existence of the property? He could find nothing that played such a role.

        Yet, in spite of his epistemological skepticism, he persisted in his belief that laws of nature are (physical) necessities. So as not to perpetuate the historical error as to what "Humean" properly connotes, I will abandon that term altogether and will adopt the relatively unproblematical term "Regularity" in its stead. At the very least, the Regularists' Theory of Laws of Nature denies that Laws of Nature are 'physically necessary'. There is no physical necessity, either in laws or in nature itself. There is no intermediate state between logical necessity on the one hand and sheer contingency on the other.

        An example misconstrual—I think—of Hume is Rom Harré's and E.H. Madden's Causal Powers: Theory of Natural Necessity. Upon re-reading some of my notes, I am skeptical that they made as big of an error as is described, above.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I'm just going by what my philosophy texts tell me.

          • It would be good for you to list them, so we know which ones are untrustworthy when it comes to Hume's views on necessitarian causation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Luke, you remind me of why I have not missed not commenting on Strange Notions.

          • Don't you want to push back falsehood on the internet??

          • Ignatius Reilly

            It would be good for you to list them, so we know which ones are
            untrustworthy when it comes to Hume's views on necessitarian causation.

            I don't know if this was meant to be partially humorous, but I laughed. I have a dry sense of humor. Anyway, I second your larger point.

          • Well, I'm not sure what you're laughing about, but I'm laughing that a person here doesn't accept that we can figure out new things over time, or doesn't accept that it would be good to "call out" the sources of falsehoods (not necessarily completely falsehoods, just a misunderstanding of Hume on a particular [but important] point). This desire of mine might make him not want to comment here:

            KA: Luke, you remind me of why I have not missed not commenting on Strange Notions.

            Realchattin' now: @ignatiusreilly1:disqus, did I do anything wrong?

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Well, I'm not sure what you're laughing about,

            Don't mind me. I thought you were taking a wry shot at the said textbooks.

            Realchattin' now: Ignatius Reilly, did I do anything wrong?

            No, it is completely fair to ask for a source for a persons ideas. Although sometimes a person wont be able to provide a source. For instance, it was my general impression in philosophy class that.....

          • Don't mind me. I thought you were taking a wry shot at the said textbooks.

            Oh... well I am aware of Ernst Haeckel's "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" exaggerated pictures/​diagrams surviving for way too long in biology textbooks. Or so I heard; I have not examined it. There is also this, from well-known sociologist Christian Smith:

            I proceed by focusing on the best-selling Introduction to Sociology textbook, John Macionis’ Society: The Basics.[26] Reading through it, page by page, sociology’s sacred, spiritual project shines through like a beacon. At times, in fact, the textbook reads like a training manual for spiritual novices. (The Sacred Project of American Sociology, 69)

                Next, in the very first sentence of the main text, the textbook calls into question the traditional idea of human “free will” by asserting that “Our decisions do not simply result from what philosophers call ‘free will.’ Sociology teaches us that our social world guides our life choices in much the same way that the seasons influence our choice of clothing.” Alas, American sociology here immediately demonstrates its common philosophical ineptitude, since (apart from the fact that no serious thinker would actually say that humans act completely with “free will”), acting with free will to choose one’s clothing and having one’s choices of clothing shaped by seasonal conditions are obviously perfectly compatible. With that, the reader is then told that “Sociology is the systematic study of human society.” (69–70)

            It seems that people just can't manage to keep their speculations separate from the data. I mean, this can't be done perfectly—Theory and Observation in Science, Underdetermination of Scientific Theory—but it can be done somewhat. A theologian I follow, Roger Olson, is trying to do this thing in theology:

            RO: All I can say, and I admit this is speculative (!), is that I hope to enroll in Theology 101 in heaven and I hope the teacher is the Holy Spirit. I fully expect to hear some shocking things. Here, all theology is to some extent "guesswork" (Pannenberg)--except when we just quote the Bible. Even then, we are often guilty of selective reading and quoting to serve our own vested interests. Here, below, before, we do our best. There are some theories (others might call them doctrines) I consider quite obviously wrong. Many I consider speculative. There's probably a degree of speculation in all of them.

            Maybe some people could learn from this theologian?

      • cminca

        Then let me narrow the question--should a brand of theology be able to veto either an avenue of scientific investigation, etc. Because others on these boards have indicated that theology should be in a position to veto scientific research and discover.

        And, while ethics may suggest that, in theory, that you should not experiment on persons it would be morals, or applied ethics, that would actually stop you from doing so. Not harming others doesn't take a philosophical education. Recent studies with babies indicate it may be in-born.

      • David Nickol

        Ethics is a branch of philosophy which can veto certain avenues of
        scientific investigation, like those which experiment on persons without
        their knowledge or consent and which harm them.

        This seems to imply that there could be no ethical theory that justified experimenting on persons without their knowledge or consent and which harmed them. But I don't think the existence of ethics as a branch of philosophy guarantees that no such ethical theory could exist. Some are using metaphysics to mean "my metaphysical beliefs," and here you are using ethics to mean "my ethical beliefs."

        As I have mentioned before, when I took my first ethics course in college, I was somewhat disappointed the first day to be told, "This course will not teach you how to tell right from wrong." (Probably anyone who has taken an ethics course has had the same experience.) When you take an introductory course in ethics, you do not learn right from wrong. You learn a number of different and not altogether compatible ethical theories each one of which attempts to provide an explanation of how to determine right from wrong. So ethics as a branch of philosophy tells us a lot of different and incompatible things, none of which can be proven to be true.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I would say that Aristotelian ethics as improved by Thomas Aquinas can tell us right from wrong, as well as how to practice good morals (via virtues).

          • David Nickol

            And my point is that when we say words like metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics we are referring to entire fields in which Aristotelianism/Thomism is included, but in which there are many other thinkers and schools of thought that are not in agreement with Aristotle and Aquinas.

  • David Nickol

    Talk about one-sidedness! An ad on the home page of Strange Notions says there have been over 500 articles posted here so far, and yet I can't remember a single one that has said anything of significance about The Walking Dead!

    • As luck would have it, next week is "Walking Dead" week at SN ;)

  • TheDreadedGug

    Wonderful discussion. Two points: first, how do those who claim the mantle of pure, scientific reason describe their own search for meaning? In other words, the people who reject the philosophical or metaphysical truths of faith may very well have discovered meaning on their own. Neil de Grasse Tyson, for example, often speaks of the spiritual and meaningful experiences he has when contemplating the heavens. Is it possible that atheists and those who subscribe to 'scientism' can, in fact, determine their own meaning of life, absent God?

    Can you 'prove' that there are objective truths without using the objective methods of science and empiricism? I am not sure.

    Second, the Protestant writer Marcus Borg wrote about 'metaphorical truth.' That is, things that are true that cannot be proved empirically. Questions of virtue, or ethical truths; issue of love and morality that humans wrestle with, but that can't be quantified or measured using math or science. They are--as the author describes above--deeply human questions that we can find 'true' answers for. It is philosophy, and literature, and theology, that provide us with the language to struggle with these ideas.

    I am very pleased that I found this website.

  • Can science really answer all of man’s exigent questions? Are all non-scientific questions ultimately meaningless or unanswerable?

    That seems happily plausible. And on that view, it means the "bunker" of reason is that big and glorious and wide open and teeming-with-unimaginable-discoveries-yet-to-be-made thing we call the universe.

    The takeaway I see in the article is that some apologists feel that reason isn't adequately serving their purposes, so they denigrate it as an "intolerant, close-minded bunker mentality". There's not much else to engage with in the article. It would have been more meaty to point out some of these supposed truths that science cannot enlighten us about, rather than hinting they are out there somewhere in the philosophical and romantic hinterlands.

    • The takeaway I see in the article is that some apologists feel that reason isn't adequately serving their purposes, so they denigrate it as an "intolerant, close-minded bunker mentality".

      If you love science so much, how do you deal with the following, from neuroscientist/​neurobiologist Antonio Damasio's Descartes' Error (20,000 'citations'):

      When emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions. (xii)

      ? (I mentioned this in a comment yesterday.)

      • How do I deal with neuroscience if I love science? Um, pretty much I think neuroscience is also fascinating, including that neuroscientific discovery you quoted. (My doctoral research was in neuroscience, so I'm probably biased on the matter.)

        • Do you acknowledge the necessity of emotion?

          • No, because rocks don't have emotion. What else do you mean by "necessity of emotion"?

          • Why are 'rocks' relevant, here? That caught me off-guard.

            As to "necessity of emotion", I mean that without emotion, it seems like your doctoral research wouldn't have happened!

          • Why are 'rocks' relevant, here?

            You asked whether emotion was necessary; I gave an example where emotion is not present at all, which is sufficient to show that its presence isn't necessary.

            As to "necessity of emotion", I mean that without emotion, it seems like your doctoral research wouldn't have happened!

            Ah, so by "necessary" you meant in this case "one causal factor among countless others in an extended process". Yes, I agree that emotion was one causal factor among countless others in various extended processes, including my research.

          • You asked whether emotion was necessary; I gave an example where emotion is not present at all, which is sufficient to show that its presence isn't necessary.

            Something can only be necessary for something else. And so:

            "Rocks are necessary for ____." ← What goes there?

            Ah, so by "necessary" you meant in this case "one causal factor among countless others in an extended process".

            No, that is not what I mean by "necessary". You know the difference between 'necessary' and 'contingent', right?

          • No, that is not what I mean by "necessary". You know the difference between 'necessary' and 'contingent', right?

            I'm quite familiar with that half-baked distinction, yes. Perhaps, rather than asking rhetorical questions, it would be helpful if you didn't omit what you later indicate is the critical information:

            Something can only be necessary for something else.

            Do you acknowledge the necessity of emotion?

            For what?

          • LB: No, that is not what I mean by "necessary". You know the difference between 'necessary' and 'contingent', right?

            RB: I'm quite familiar with that half-baked distinction, yes.

            Ooh, this "half-baked" has piqued my interest! I'm always interested in learning new logics. What's past modal? After all, the Scholastics knew about modal logic.

            Perhaps, rather than asking rhetorical questions, it would be helpful if you didn't omit what you later indicate is the critical information:

            LB: Something can only be necessary for something else.

            LB: Do you acknowledge the necessity of emotion?

            For what?

            Necessary for life. (Note that "rocks" are not alive.)

          • Necessary for life

            OK, then indeed I admit emotions are not at all necessary for life. For example, plankton doesn't have emotion.

            Ooh, this "half-baked" has piqued my interest! I'm always interested in learning new logics. What's past modal?

            Phew, there's too many to go into. The obvious place to start if you genuinely want to get up to date on modern logics is here. I'll limit myself to one favorite, probabilistic logic, which is a conservative extension of classical logic.

          • OK, then indeed I admit emotions are not at all necessary for life. For example, plankton doesn't have emotion.

            Plankton cannot do neuroscience, last time I checked. It seems like you've hit upon "rocks", 2.0. I mean, if all you want out of 'life' is a plankton's life, you'd have a point. But I meant to talk about 'life' in the sense of "I want to live". You saw that I hyperlinked "life", right?

            I'll limit myself to one favorite, probabilistic logic, which is a conservative extension of classical logic.

            Idle curiosity: Are you aware of Karl Popper's issues with probabilistic laws of nature?

          • Plankton cannot do neuroscience, last time I checked.

            If that is your objection, you should have expressed your meaning of "life".

            But I meant to talk about 'life' in the sense of "I want to live". You saw that I hyperlinked "life", right?

            I saw it, read the passage, and chose to use what you wrote rather than what you possibly-meant-but-nevertheless-avoided-writing-plainly-for-some-reason. I'll reiterate: it would be helpful if you didn't keep omitting what you later indicate is the critical information.

            Based on the link, I'd have to interpret the original question along the lines of "Do you acknowledge the necessity of emotions [for securing blessings from a deity and avoiding his curses]?" And the answer to that is, plainly, still No.

          • If that is your objection, you should have expressed your meaning of "life".

            I was trying not to write a full-blown essay from step #1. Do you want a full-blown essay? I don't see why it would be worth my time, when you say stuff like:

            RB: I think we're done with this thread.

            This came out of the blue, and I don't particularly want to spend my time writing a long essay if you're just going to suddenly leave after it.

            Based on the link, I'd have to interpret the original question along the lines of "Do you acknowledge the necessity of emotions [for securing blessings from a deity and avoiding his curses]?" And the answer to that is, plainly, still No.

            Do you really have that hard a problem understanding what "life" (and its cognates) means, here:

                “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
                “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:11–20)

            ? My guess is that if I were to ask your average person at a downtown SF supermarket what "life" means in that passage, [s]he'd struggle much less with it than you appear to be struggling. Or, that person wouldn't nitpick or choose the most obnoxious-but-strictly-true definition just to screw with me. But you seem to love doing precisely that!

          • Do you want a full-blown essay?

            To reiterate: it would be helpful if you didn't omit what you later indicate is the critical information. Don't write "life" and mean something unspecified about hopes and dreams. Don't write down a link to an ancient text about how not to get murdered by a god and yet mean the typical understanding of a modern supermarket shopper. Write what you mean, plainly and briefly if feasible, or at length and with convolutions if not. I can only respond to what you write, as I'm not a mind-reader.

            I think we're done with this thread.

            This came out of the blue

            That was the other thread on account of the rejection or ignorance of how fallacies work.

          • To reiterate: it would be helpful if you didn't omit what you later indicate is the critical information.

            Do you claim that you have never done this in the conversation? If you haven't, I would ask that you apply the same standard of grace to me, that you apparently apply to yourself. If you claim you haven't, then I may have to go searching to see if that is actually true.

            Things get articulated and clarified in conversation. I don't know that it is healthy to the kind of conversation which happens at SN, to push the very high standard you are advocating, here. Sometimes the critical info doesn't show up right away, you know. Sometimes it has to be found by one who conquers.

            Don't write "life" and mean something unspecified about hopes and dreams.

            Can you not deal with superpositions of possible meanings? C'mon, you like probabilistic reasoning, don't you? That has 'superposition' written all over it.

            Write what you mean, plainly and briefly if feasible, or at length and with convolutions if not. I can only respond to what you write, not being a mind-reader.

            Wait, you cannot use generative modeling to guess what I mean? You won't always get it right, but sometimes you will. Furthermore, given that you are a unique particular (see: Hybrid Logic), you might say something fascinating in trying to so-model. If you refuse to do this, you would appear to be more of a parasite than a dialogue-partner...

            That was the other thread on account of the rejection or ignorance of how fallacies work.

            And it came out of the blue. Until you make some sort of commitment, I'm going to play it cautious when interacting with you, and not dump a huge amount of time into a comment that might just get ignored.

          • Do you claim that you have never done this in the conversation? Can you not deal with superpositions of possible meanings? C'mon, you like probabilistic reasoning, don't you? Wait, you cannot use generative modeling to guess what I mean? Do you really have that hard a problem understanding what "life" (and its cognates) means? Do you want a full-blown essay? What's past modal? You know the difference between 'necessary' and 'contingent', right?

            Ugh. So much rhetorical questioning.

            Do you claim that you have never done this in the conversation?

            I'm happy to rectify the omission if I've made one and you wish it.

            I don't know that it is healthy to the kind of conversation which happens at SN, to push the very high standard you are advocating, here.

            FWIW, I don't agree that it's a high standard that we not point to ancient don't-get-murdered-by-a-god ideas when we mean modern grocery shopper ideas.

            C'mon, you like probabilistic reasoning, don't you? That has 'superposition' written all over it.

            That's not correct. Fuzzy logic allows superpositions. Probabilistic logic is an extension of classical logic; in both, propositions are uniquely true or false.

            I can only respond to what you write, not being a mind-reader.

            Wait, you cannot use generative modeling to guess what I mean?

            Generative modeling requires data; you supplied spurious data points. Put more simply, I can make inferences about what you mean, but only based on what you actually write.

            Can you not deal with superpositions of possible meanings?

            Polysemy is the bane of good communication, so I avoid it as much as possible whenever I wish there to be understanding.

            not dump a huge amount of time into a comment that might just get ignored

            Thank you, that's good to hear. :) Brevity will aid in our effort to write plainly.

            Incidentally, I'm going to sleep now and must "ignore" any further comments till tomorrow evening at the earliest.

          • Ugh. So much rhetorical questioning.

            This is false; I meant all those questions to get answers. In this narrow domain of the words I use and the question marks I indicate, my stated intentions trump your inferences, unless you really want to set Eric Schwitzgebel's 2008 The Unreliability of Naive Introspection over againstRegina Rini's Consciousness Science and the Privileged Sample Problem.

            I'm happy to rectify the omission if I've made one and you wish it.

            You've not satisfactorily defined 'science', which shows up by you merely playing the shell game and not defining 'scientist', 'practicing', and 'arguments'. I had to provide another substructure for those terms. So, you've actually been dancing, all this time, around the challenge I issued:

            LB: I challenge you to define 'science' without dependence upon final or formal causation.

            You've just not done this. You've played and danced and avoided the core issue. You're asking me to do for 'life', what you refuse to do for 'science'.

            That's not correct. Fuzzy logic allows superpositions. Probabilistic logic is an extension of classical logic; in both, propositions are uniquely true or false.

            You appear to be conflating epistemology with ontology/​metaphysics.

            Generative modeling requires data; you supplied spurious data points.

            But probabilistic reasoning can deal with spurious data points. (e.g. the Kalman filter can do this) It's classical logic that exhibits the Ja 2:8–13 "insta-fail-on-one-error" pathology (incidentally, this shows up in Richardson & Domingos 2003 Building large knowledge bases by mass collaboration, under "Consistency", p2).

            Polysemy is the bane of good communication, so I avoid it as much as possible whenever I wish there to be understanding.

            On the contrary, polysemy is crucial for non-manipulative social relations:

                What is the key to the social content of emotivism? It is the fact that emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations. (After Virtue, 23)

                Meaning is uncertain; therefore I must constantly fine-tune my language and work at reinterpreting the words I hear. I try to understand what the other person says to me. All language is more or less a riddle to be figured out; it is like interpreting a text that has many possible meanings. In my effort at understanding and interpretation, I establish definitions, and finally, a meaning. The thick haze of discourse produces meaning.
                All of intellectual life (and I use the word "all" advisedly), even that of specialists in the most exact sciences, is based on these instabilities, failures to understand, and errors in interpretation, which we must find a way to go beyond and overcome. Mistaking a person's language keeps me from "taking" the person—from taking him prisoner. (The Humiliation of the Word, 19)

                Unless the metalanguage remains untouchable, no communication is possible. (Hope in Time of Abandonment, 34)

            A complete lack of polysemy leads to homogeneity which destroys individuality. However, that just means our ontologies will be different; our phenomenologies can still match: phenomenological matching vs. ontological matching. But surely we wish to develop each other's ontologies, perhaps via what one might call 'agapaō'?

          • Idle curiosity: Are you aware of Karl Popper's issues with probabilistic laws of nature?

            Yes, I've read his main paper on it and the replies; he was wrong.

          • Why do you think he was wrong? (Or can you point me to what is the best rebuttal, in your opinion?)

          • Well, since it's my favorite, I'd offer as the most profitable rebuttal E.T. Jaynes' book that I linked to earlier on probability as an extension of logic. He takes many of the interesting paradoxes of naive probability and gives a proof based on the axioms of probabilistic logic of a single consistent answer. It's mostly math-heavy in a wonderfully enlightening way, but there are occasional philosophical digressions that give more easily digestible reasons about why the naive probability theories go wrong.

          • Thanks! What's your favorite way that "naive probability theories go wrong", and how to resolve that error?

          • My favorite is the two envelopes problem. If you like puzzles, try it for a little while before reading past the problem description. Wikipedia kinda spoils it with several ways of resolving the problem.

          • Dude, that's awesome. I read the problem, but not the solutions. I'm still chewing on it. Some observations for you to feed on and/or respond to if you'd like:

            (1) the unbounded-energy sense of this is weird; it is almost unphysical, except for Heisenberg's unsharpness relation

            (2) the quantum zeno effect can be used to suppress evolution to a higher energy state, which would make the "stay" option the clearly best one

            (3) this reminds me strongly of exponential growth of waves, at least in the near-field

            (4) generally, to keep particles [of high enough energy ← unnecessary?] from decaying, one needs a proper "containment structure", as it were

            (5) what does a random walk look like in this exponential space?

            (6) it reminds me of Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial); when physicists cannot observe something with their given theoretical framework, they declare it nonexistent (more strictly: nonphysical)

            (7) this reminds me of a black hole lecture by Leonard Susskind on electron 'oscillation'

            Thanks for this! It slots in perfectly with my research program, as of ~Saturday.

          • Phew, there's too many to go into. The obvious place to start if you genuinely want to get up to date on modern logics is here.

            Oooh, Hybrid Logic is really neat! Thanks! Its intersection with nominalism is fascinating; it reminds me of Colin E. Gunton's 'open transcendentals' in The One, the Three and the Many and the importance of the particular in Christianity (over against rationalist/​intellectualist traditions that love 'being' and 'abstraction' and 'context-freeness').

  • bdlaacmm

    What a wonderful posting!

    As Pope Francis expressed in Laudato Si, what we actually do with the knowledge we have gained (by whatever means) is far more important than how we got it. Modern science and technology may have given us mastery over the Earth, yet all that we have done with that great knowledge is to trash the planet in exchange for a soulless existence of silent (and sometimes not so silent) purposeless despair, all the while dreaming up new ways to kill each other.

    The world is awash with weaponry, frivolous consumerism, and a debased culture of pornography, "reality" TV, and inanity. Sundered from any meaning, billions of people spend their existence "distracted from distraction by distraction" (T.S. Eliot).

  • David Hardy

    truth is much broader, deeper, higher, and richer than mere scientific fact . . . This is the bunker into which we have put ourselves, a myopic view of human reason that considers scientific certainty and practicality alone to be worthwhile and valid, while all other modes of thought, like philosophy and theology, are considered to be ambiguous and inconclusive enough that it is better not to waste time with them anyway.

    I both agree and disagree with this article. On the one hand, I do think contemplation should go beyond the bounds of where skepticism and empiricism can take us. On the other hand, the virtue of these modes of thinking is that they are designed to create the greatest certainty that the conclusions are true. Can we concretely define and observe evidence for the belief, and does it withstand efforts to disprove it? Obviously, not every belief can be rendered into this form, and some of the beliefs that can’t are still important, but the other modes of thought also are far less resistant to subjective bias.

    That is, I only trust that empirical facts are true because I believe that I am capable of knowing the truth.

    The foundation of skepticism is that fair challenge helps lead to the truth. Empiricism allows us to point to things that we can observe and consider, opening our interpretation to challenge by the evidence available. The philosophic side of this is that humans are given to forming plausible but false beliefs and resist challenge to them, so the safeguards of skepticism and empiricism help overcome this tendency to better know the truth.

    However, beyond these points of disagreement, I think that venturing into these less certain areas are, nonetheless, of central importance. Skepticism and empiricism cannot tell us what the personal meanings of the things we observe are. Our choices depend on that sense of what our experience mean, and what our purpose in life is. Therefore, the course our lives take, good or bad, depend on this less certain area of knowledge. To me, the danger comes when, by virtue of its importance, people try to raise meaning and purpose to the level of absolute certainty. By its nature, uncertainty creates areas of gray and points that are open to question. Embracing black and white certainty in these areas carries the risk of being unable to recognize this.

  • Deirdre

    It's almost impossible on a practical level to live life without this larger perspective. Even the people I know who see science as the highest form of human understanding, still weep at funerals as if man is more than a randomly evolved collection of atoms.